Feb 19, 2021

Goodbye to the old year and Hello to the new...

Eros, RTF Lompoc's new resident with Mom
Eros, RTF Lompoc's new resident with Mom

Dear Friend of the Wild Ones,

Like it did for everyone, last year presented extra challenges to Return to Freedom. Our programs, like tours and other events offered to the public, had to be postponed, modified or conducted virtually, online. This was the case with our Spirit birthday celebration. (Spirit was the animation muse and model for the DreamWorks animated feature, "Spirit; Stallion of the Cimarron") But the Birthday Spirit was strong nevertheless, and many friends of RTF took part in the extended Celebration for Spirit.

Work at Return to Freedom's Lompoc headquarters and at our several satellite locations is a constant, but with occasional twists.

At the end of January, the ranch in Lompoc received almost 10” of rain in 4 days. The adobe clay mud here is very hard on the horses and for staff to get around in. Thanks to a generous and compassionate person, we were able to evacuate 16 horses to her empty ranch in Santa Ynez which had shelter and dry ground for the horses. During an intense hailstorm we were able to relocate some of our halterable horses to her empty facility, which made room for other horses here at our headquarters to come in out of the unrelenting storms. 

Our farrier and part time superhero, Brian, continued supplemental feeding for the horses living in the rolling hills at our San Luis Obispo (SLO) satellite sanctuary as weather conditions allowed. We did have to relocate two seniors from SLO to our Lompoc facility so that they can receive more individual care now, in keeping with their age.

83 horses were taken off our pasture lease in Alturas and relocated to Dreamcatcher ranch for the Winter. At our Northern CA satellite, Thomas and Jason worked in 18” of snow to set up sorting pens and the squeeze chute, and safely sorted four young Gila colts for gelding. The four colts along with two special-needs senior mares from the Calico herd who need vet attention were safely transported by Thomas to our Lompoc headquarters. 

Our ranch manager, Jason, is always busy repairing fences, solving problems and caring for horses. He continues to manage a private ranch set up exclusively for the 66 Gila horses, and we are all ready for him to come back to Lompoc!  The maintenance on a ranch is never-ending hard work, and we are lucky to have Jason on board with his many skills and his dedication to the horses.

Two foals have been born in 2021. Although all RTF mares are treated with native PZP, a non-hormonal fertility control, some mares don’t respond to it. We have had a 98% efficacy rate, but when one or two slip through the cracks, the whole herd celebrates! We welcomed one Gila filly (still un-named) in December, and a Spanish Brislawn colt just before Valentine’s day. His name is Eros!

Advocacy

As you know, Return to Freedom also works on the national level for the wild horses still running free on the range. There is always a lot of activity to report in this area of Return to Freedom's mission.

Since our last report, Return to Freedom scored a legislative win and has filed a lawsuit opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to surgically sterilize wild mares. 

On Dec. 21, Congress approved a $14.2 million increase in the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, in part to fund “a robust expansion” of “proven, safe, effective, and humane” fertility control. Altogether, the wild horse program received $115.8 million, part of a $1.4 trillion spending package to fund the government through September.

The additional funds from Congress come in response to a May 15 BLM proposal to “institute an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy to address the current unsustainable trajectory of on-range wild horse and burro population growth.” RTF found BLM’s report to be vague and often self-contradictory.

Fertility control and on-range gathers are to be “maximized,” the committees wrote, “even if Appropriate Management Levels (the number of horses the government believes can be supported in a given Herd Management Area) are not immediately achievable.”

RTF has serious issues with maximizing removals, although BLM has been clear since 2017 that that is how it would handle cumulative population growth. However, the language about maximizing fertility control is critically important because BLM has for years insisted on capturing and removing wild horses down to its population target before implementing any fertility control, so that is a positive step forward.

The committees wrote that in Fiscal Year 2021 BLM must also continue to abide by its Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a humane-handling protocol, during roundups, transportation, holding, and adoptions, as well as restrictions against selling wild horses or burros without restriction (to slaughter) or killing healthy animals, both requirements for which RTF has lobbied.

The final bill also included language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from hiring horsemeat inspectors. The bill did not include specific language barring surgical sterilization of wild mares.

Near year's end, RTF filed suit in federal court in California to halt a Bureau of Land Management plan to surgically sterilize wild mares using a procedure that is dangerous, inhumane, and an unnecessary risk especially when proven, well-studied and previously utilized modes of alternative fertility control exist. 

The BLM, in December, completed a helicopter roundup on the Confusion Herd Management Area in Utah. The agency plans to hire presently unknown veterinarians to perform on 17 mares a painful and invasive surgical procedure in which a mare’s ovaries are crushed then pulled out with a looped chain instrument. The mares would later be released onto the range.

The BLM continued to move forward with its plan despite 58 members of Congress sending a letter to the Secretary of the Interior calling on BLM to drop its plan. The letter came as a result of lobbying by RTF and colleagues.

RTF's management of hundreds of horses and burros in multiple locations, and our campaign to replace traumatic roundups with safe birth control are difficult tasks, but with the help of so many caring supporters we have and will continue to provide a great life for our sanctuary residents and fight for the lives of the mustangs and burros on our public lands.

We're so grateful for your help in this important work for America's wild equines and we hope you'll continue to be an important part of it.

For the Wild Ones, and those who stand with them,

All of Us at RTF 

RTF Gilas in No. CA enjoy a winter meal
RTF Gilas in No. CA enjoy a winter meal
Setting up panels to get entire herd into a corral
Setting up panels to get entire herd into a corral
Fence repairs in progress
Fence repairs in progress
RTF Alturas horses ready for their Winter move
RTF Alturas horses ready for their Winter move
December surprise-Gila foal beats birth control...
December surprise-Gila foal beats birth control...
Nov 6, 2020

Checking in-the RTF Gila Herd on the move...

Newly arrived Gilas explore Black Hills Sanctuary
Newly arrived Gilas explore Black Hills Sanctuary

Checking in on the RTF Gila Herd on the move...

Dear Friends,

In 2017, RTF rescued 117 members of the historic Gila Herd from a troubled living situation to keep them from the auction and the kill pen. This was just one herd that was part of a 900-horse rescue led by Fleet of Angels, who worked hard with RTF and many others to ensure that all horses found a safe home. 

The Gila herd is believed to be descended from the horses brought to Arizona in the 1600s from Spain by Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino. The Gila herd was originally captured by the BLM in 2003 from the Painted Rock Herd Area in Arizona.

Return to Freedom and The Black Hills Sanctuary in South Dakota pledged to share the responsibility of providing sanctuary for the Spanish Gila herd, in an effort to maintain their bonded families and unique 13-generation-long heritage. In 2017, the Black Hills Sanctuary was not yet able to take in the Gilas, so the entire herd made the journey to Return to Freedom’s leased pasture in Northern California, and has been protected and managed by RTF over the past three and a half years. 

In 2019, the large herd sorted itself into two large herds. A bonded group of sixty-five horses were moved to a pristine private ranch. The rest of the herd remained on the leased pasture until Black Hills Sanctuary was prepared to take them on permanently.

Just recently, our colleagues at Black Hills Sanctuary were in a position to take the 51 Gila horses living on the property in Alturas, CA, to their forever home on 14,000 acres in South Dakota! A three-year-old colt named Bandit, and Thor, an older Gila stallion, will remain in Lompoc with a handful of other Gilas who live in our special needs /senior pasture. Thor is also a mentor to younger males, to whom he is a calming influence. Bandit is a three-year-old colt who will be gentled and available for adoption with a buddy to an approved home.

Return to Freedom continues to care for the now-66 Gilas at our satellite on a private ranch in Northern CA, under the expert care of our Ranch Manager, Jason, in addition to their counterparts who remain with us in our Lompoc and San Luis Obispo sanctuary. These past few months at RTF’s far north satellite, a lot of work was done on Irrigation and irrigation system repairs, including pouring concrete and fixing broken valves to fix the irrigation system. Necessary improvements were also made to the chute used to hold horses for medical needs. 

Under Jason’s supervision, 58 tons of hay were cut, baled and stacked in the barn for winter. Four-plus acres of star thistles were removed and cleaned. Temporary fencing was continually moved in order to rotate the Gilas for grazing. Additionally, 1,600 feet of temporary fence was installed to improve grazing in another field. This ranch had no sunshine for nearly 40 days because of fires and smoke, creating very poor conditions for the pastures to grow grass, so we will have to begin to feed hay earlier than we did last year. The good news is we have already contracted the cutting and stacking of hay for the Gilas up there!

While we are so grateful to the Black Hills Sanctuary for being able to fulfill their pledge to provide refuge for half of the Gila herd after their rescue, it was bittersweet to see them leave. But seeing them kick up their heels as they unloaded at the Black Hills Sanctuary and galloped off to explore thousands of acres filled our hearts. Thankfully, we still have a total of 75 of our Gila friends in our RTF family, and with your help we will always ensure their safety and happiness. We at RTF are so grateful for your loyalty to the historic and beautiful Gila herd. 

All of us at RTF

Taking in the last days of California Dreaming
Taking in the last days of California Dreaming
Coggins tests and health certificates for travel
Coggins tests and health certificates for travel
Gilas arrive at Black Hills Sanctuary
Gilas arrive at Black Hills Sanctuary
Thor, senior mentor stallion with younger friend
Thor, senior mentor stallion with younger friend
Some of the 71 RTF Gilas living in Northern Calif.
Some of the 71 RTF Gilas living in Northern Calif.

Links:

Oct 12, 2020

Life goes on happily for the wild horses and burros of RTF

RTF in SLO, home to 24 burros and 84 wild horses
RTF in SLO, home to 24 burros and 84 wild horses

Dear Friends of Return to Freedom,

While the world outside shifts and adjusts, the horses and burros who call RTF their home are none the wiser.

We've had to work harder to find the means to continue their high standard of care without interruption, but because of our loyal supporters, our precious residents haven't lacked a thing.

Although fundraising is slower this year due to the pandemic, we have been able to add a new member to our development team to help with fundraising. 

The Ranch—

At our Lompoc headquarters, RTF has added ranch support positions to help fill long-time under-staffed areas.  For the ranch, RTF hired one Equine Assistant (assisting the Equine Manager) and one additional Ranch Hand. We still need to hire two more solid ranch hands to pick up some of the schedule.

While in July and August we opened up for private tours and small groups for our Wild Horse Photo Safaris, our program income and participation are still low compared to 2019 due to restrictions. Our scheduled May event to celebrate the 25th birthday of Spirit, the Kiger mustang stallion who was the muse for DreamWorks’ 2003 animated film, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, had to be cancelled, and we moved it online with video messages from friends and much more—including an auction! This has helped to reach new people and also recoup some of the loss we have due to most of our programs being shut down. Private meet-and-greets with Spirit were and continue to be popular.

Much of the summer and early fall has been spent clearing brush and trimming trees in a continued effort for fire control. The burros had been moved around the sanctuary to graze ravines and we have cleared an enormous amount of chaparral along the roads to widen buffer zones in case of fire. 

Also, a previous adopter had their sanctuary destroyed in the CA fires. With fire sweeping across their property at 95 miles an hour, it was a miracle most all of their animals survived. The horses were hauled off in the nick of time. Fifteen of their adopted horses had to return to RTF/Lompoc for sanctuary, adding to the cost of operations at RTF.  We recently launched a Fire and Emergency Fund to help with this ongoing need.

Ongoing daily care for 200 horses, including worming and trimming hooves in the chute, also continued at the Lompoc location.

Callie King has been a regular volunteer to donate her wonderful skills at the sanctuary a few days a week. In addition to helping to evaluate and instruct equine volunteers, she focused on gentling a few of our horses who need special care, so they can be regularly handled safely. She also worked with five Spanish horses rescued last year, who have now been safely adopted out together to an RTF supporter.

Satellites

RRR Ranch

This past quarter at RTF’s far north satellite, home to 65 Gila horses, a lot of work was done on Irrigation and irrigation system repairs, including pouring concrete and fixing broken valves. 

Under the supervision of RTF Ranch Manager Jason, 58 tons of hay were cut, baled and stacked in the barn. Four-plus acres of short field of star thistles were removed and cleaned.

During the entire month of July, every three to four days ranchhands set up and/or took down 1,400 -plus feet of temporary fencing in order to rotate the horses for grazing, and took down and set up 1,900 feet of fence to permit grazing of an additional field.  The hands also installed 1,600 feet of temporary fence to improve grazing in another field.

Necessary improvements were also made to the chute used to hold horses for medical needs.

Jason also travelled to Healdsburg and hauled seven Choctaw ponies to this ranch to escape the fires. After two weeks there, the horses were hauled to Return to Freedom’s Lompoc location.

Our northern satellite ranch had no sunshine for nearly 40 days because of fires and smoke, creating very poor condition for the pastures to grow grass, so we will have to begin to feed hay earlier than last year. 

San Luis Obispo

We just started supplemental feeding up at our SLO satellite where we have 24 burros and 84 wild horses.

Advocacy—

Inside and outside of Washington, D.C., Return to Freedom continues to advocate each day to end horse slaughter and for lasting changes in how the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service manage wild horses and burros and the rangelands on which they depend.

In July, the House of Representatives approved a Fiscal Year 2021 funding package that included $102.6 million for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program and continued key protections for America’s horses.

Faced with an unprecedented push on Capitol Hill for the use of lethal management tools like euthanasia and unrestricted sale (to slaughter) starting in 2017, RTF was part of a years-long effort to provide Congress with a viable science-based, non-lethal alternative that could achieve bipartisan support.

That work helped yield a $21 million finding increase for the program from Congress in FY 2020 and directions from appropriators that BLM needed to pursue a new non-lethal, humane management direction including a significant increase in fertility control. We are pleased to report that the House has maintained the $21 million increase for 2021.

The House bill also:

--continues a prohibition on both the BLM and U.S. Forest Service using taxpayer funding to euthanize or sell without restriction (to slaughter) healthy wild horses and burros;

 --bars the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using funds to hire horsemeat inspectors, keeping in place an effective ban on horse slaughter within U.S. borders;

 --includes an amendment supported by RTF that requires that BLM utilize $11 million to implement the fertility control vaccine PZP. While the amendment would represent a sizable investment in fertility control, more will be needed.

Also in July, the House passed an infrastructure package that included language RTF lobbied for that would ban transporting horses in double-decker trailers, which even the USDA has labeled inhumane, under any circumstance. 

Funding bills from the Senate have yet to move forward.

With the support of thousands of people taking action through our website, RTF continues to advocate for: consistent funding support for, and the implementation of, safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines, like the longer-lasting PZP-22 as well as PZP, public-private partnerships like darting programs and herd monitoring, and rangeland restoration while strongly opposing surgical sterilization of wild mares and burro jennies and lethal tools like euthanasia or unrestricted sale (to slaughter).

As shown by ongoing BLM and USFS roundups this summer across the West -- few of which have included treating and releasing mares and burro jennies with fertility control that would reduce the call for future roundups -- it is critically important that Congress not only invest in a new direction but provide much-needed oversight of BLM’s program. 

In September, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board passed recommendations that included calling for the immediate use of fertility control, holistic planning that takes into account all uses of Herd Management Area, including private livestock, and an outside audit of BLM’s decision-making structure.

The recommendations are a marked change from 2016-18, when the board, which typically leans toward livestock interests, recommended BLM kill tens of thousands of wild horses and burros in government holding and sell them without restriction (to slaughter). 

The work by RTF and other stakeholders to present Congress with a non-lethal, multi-pronged alternative to BLM’s nearly five decades of roundups and warehousing of wild horses helped lay the groundwork for the advisory board’s move away from lethal options. RTF biologist Celeste Carlisle, in her second year representing wild horse advocates on the board, has worked hard to build relationships and change the culture of the board.

On the issue of horse slaughter, RTF continues to advocate aggressively for passage of the SAFE Act (H.R. 961 / S. 2006), which would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States and the export of American horses for slaughter. As of this writing, the bill has earned the backing of 236 cosponsors in the House. Though time for the House and Senate to vote on their versions of the bill is starting to run low, RTF will continue lobbying hard down to the wire.

As we continue to care for hundreds of wild horse and burros at our sanctuary locations, and to advocate for their counterparts still running free on the range, we never forget that it is only the continued support of our like-minded friends that make these good lives and important work possible.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,

All of us at RTF 

Hope with Galahad's band of mares in SLO
Hope with Galahad's band of mares in SLO
Wendy Malick with horses adopted by RTF supporters
Wendy Malick with horses adopted by RTF supporters
Choctaw horses at RRR satellite ranch
Choctaw horses at RRR satellite ranch
Irrigation work at RRR satellite
Irrigation work at RRR satellite

Links:

 
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