Nevada Judge Refuses to Hear Contempt Charges Against BLM

Advocates want transparency, full public access and their First Amendment rights upheld

Reno NV (July 29, 2010)—Tuesday Judge Hicks refused to hear Laura Leigh’s motion for contempt against the BLM who denied her access to view the Owyhee/Tuscarora roundup that ended July 20th.  Earlier, on July 16, 2010, the court ruled to honor Leigh’s First Amendment rights, emphasizing her right to view the roundup in Elko Country, northeastern Nevada.

“If the court refuses to listen to new arguments, then Secretary Salazar’s rogue agency—the BLM—is literally accountable to no one,” states Leigh, Director of Herd Watch, a Cloud Foundation program.

When Leigh sought access to the roundup the day after the ruling (July 17th), BLM officials told her she did not have permission to enter private land where they had placed the capture corrals, citing the landowner had written a letter refusing to allow the public onto his property. What Leigh saw was a letter allowing other public citizens (veterinarians) into the trap site. When she asked to be allowed to follow the same process as these other members of the public, she was told, because of the lawsuit she brought to the courtroom, she would most likely be denied. Further testimony revealed that the private landowner did indeed allow Leigh to witness the gather on the 19th, however BLM failed to allow access for Leigh and simply concluded their operations on the 20th.

“We want to have full access to see America’s wild horse roundups. This is the public’s right. We want to know how our American icons are treated especially during roundups in the hottest time of year when foals are still tiny,” explains Leigh. “The BLM is playing games and denying us access. At this point our only option is to go to court to hold the BLM accountable for the public’s wild horses.”

While attempting to observe the Owyhee roundup Leigh was followed by an Elko County Sheriff. She was on a county road miles from any town or even any ranch. The Sheriff indicated he could not tell her if she was on a county or a private road. But, if the road was private, he could arrest her. He indicated he could not radio the BLM for information, for lack of a radio, even though he had mentioned just speaking with the BLM. He could not call them, because there was no cell service, but would not agree to drive to a place where he might have cell service.

“Basically each time I asked for assistance in dealing with the BLM or the Sheriff’ the ‘I can’t help you,’ roadblocks went up and more hurdles were presented to jump over,” says Leigh. “Why did they go through so much trouble to keep me from observing the roundup?”

“The Nevada judge may have refused to hear the contempt charges brought against the BLM in a court of law, but the BLM’s actions are contemptuous and the public knows it,” states Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation.  “Why does the BLM continue to drive our wild horses into private slivers of land in a sea of public land to round them up? Is it to hide from any scrutiny by the press or public observers?”

The BLM has already completed the Little Humboldt roundup. The Rock Creek roundup will be complete by weeks end. The entire Tuscarora roundup will have no more public observation scheduled than they had prior to the original Order of the Court recognizing Leigh’s First Amendment rights.

Kathrens points out that “Leigh was allowed to view fewer than 100 of the 1,200 wild American mustangs rounded up. The BLM’s blatant dismissal of First Amendment rights is alarming.”

The Tuscarora death toll is 22 horses and growing. Several foals less than three months of age have been killed in this roundup. Advocates for the horses warned that summer roundups would be extremely dangerous for small foals in the desert heat. The BLM contends that this is an appropriate time of year.

Statements made about the alleged emergency in the first of the three Tuscarora roundups (defined as an emergency only after the original lawsuit was filed) were expanded on in the defendants written affidavits. Photographs and affidavits from the plaintiff documented that the “emergency” was contained to only a small portion of the Owyhee area. The BLM launched misleading statements during the first ruling. The Court’s original ruling to allow the Owyhee gather to continue was based on a lack of information given to the Court. Expanded documentation was never allowed due to the current denial in the Reno district Federal Court.

“BLM needs to be accountable for their negligence”, states Leigh. “Creating apparent emergencies in order to clear away American mustangs is un-American. These animals deserve to roam freely on their land. They are a symbol of the American spirit.”