RENO, Nev. (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's internal review of a wild horse roundup in Nevada found some mustangs were whipped in the face, dragged by a rope around the neck, and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods, but the agency concluded none of the mistreatment rose to the level of being inhumane.
BLM Director Bob Abbey did, however, determine additional training is needed for the workers and contractors involved.
Abbey, the former BLM state director for Nevada, said the September roundup near the Utah line was done correctly for the most part. But he said the review cited some incidents of inappropriate practices, including helicopters jeopardizing the health and safety of horses by following too closely or chasing small bands or individual animals for too long.
"Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable, and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated," Abbey said in a statement announcing a number of procedures intended to improve and further review the BLM's standard operating procedures for roundups.
In addition to prohibiting helicopters from making contact with horses, Abbey said he would order more training for both the agency workers and contractors involved. The review team also recommended the agency develop a system for tracking a variety of incidents, "from the use of electrical prods, to roping, to injuries or reports of animal welfare concerns."
"The review team believes this will demonstrate that issues like the specific incidents at the Triple B gather are the exception, not the rule," the report said.
Officials for Sun J Livestock in Vernal, Utah, the contractor for the Triple B Roundup between Elko and Ely, did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.
Horse protection advocates said they were encouraged by a series of steps Abbey outlined this week to rein in the airborne cowboys and wranglers on the ground who they say don't always act in the horses' best interests.
"This review is a first step in addressing the cruelty that is pervasive in the BLM's wild horse and burro program, and we commend the BLM review team for its honesty," said Suzanne Roy, director of the Americas Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a coalition of more than 40 groups that includes the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But the groups also expressed concern that the BLM didn't find some of the more egregious incidents to be "inhumane" treatment.
"What is their definition of inhumane?" asked Anne Novak, founder of the California-based advocacy group Protect Mustangs.
"They are stepping up to the transgressions and treatments that occurred — finally fessing up to some major problems," added Roy. "But now, what are they going to do about it? How it translates to an agency-wide policy is the big open question."
The BLM review team was composed of Gus Ward, the BLM's lead wild horse and burro specialist in Utah; Ken Collum, BLM field manager for the Eagle Lake district in California; Steven Hall, BLM communications director for Colorado; and Dr. Owen Henderson, a veterinarian for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.