Oct 16, 2019

Running RTF Has Many Moving Parts

Meeting some RTF horses on a tour
Meeting some RTF horses on a tour

Sanctuary

While it’s fun and satisfying to work directly with the horses and burros at RTF, much of the hard work our Ranch Manager, Jason, and his ranch staff does is to maintain and improve the facilities in which the residents live.

During the months of July and August, hard-working staff rebuilt 780 ft of fence at RTF’s south pasture. They raised the fence by 10 inches, adding posts and single smooth wire to the existing fencing.

For Bear and Chief’s chief holding pen, 380 ft of fencing were improved for added security, and the 190 ft walkway fence from holding to the pasture was also rebuilt and raised.

Over 30 new fence posts, made from used telephone poles donated by Vandenberg Air Force base, were installed, and a new dividing fence for the stallions’ winter pens were built with 220 ft raised and rebuilt, again for added security and strength.

Jason also spent 2 weeks on a fencing project at a new satellite location up north. Fencing is clearly a priority, to keep RTF’s horses and burros safe and gently managed.

At our San Luis Obispo satellite, staff repaired a spring which provides fresh water for the horses there.

And machines being machines, we replaced a motor in our Kubota 1140, a vital tool in running the ranch.

In September, ranch staff excavated and hauled 90 tons of shale to numerous shelters and roads on the ranch. They stockpiled 5 loads of shale for winter maintenance, filled in wash-outs in Spirit’s pasture and our front hill pasture. They finished spreading shale under 8 shelters, finished the road from office with wood chips for 850 feet, and hauled shale to 700ft of roads serving the areas where Amante and our Lompoc Gilas reside.

This work is extremely demanding, and we’re lucky to have such a skilled ranch manager and dedicated ranch staff.

Program and Education

As always during clement weather, Return to Freedom welcomed guests to Tours, Volunteer and Family events and Photo Safaris, pictured in our photo gallery here. As well as experiencing the specific event, Program participants learn about the challenges facing America's wild horses and burros, and leave with a new or strengthened commitment to standing with and advocating for America's wild equines. 

Advocacy

On Sept. 26, the Senate Appropriations voted to dedicate an additional $35 million toward the first-ever large-scale effort to implement “proven, safe and humane” tools to curb wild horse and burro population growth — an investment that can be the first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing and warehousing these American icons.

Supported by Return to Freedom and a diverse coalition of stakeholders from both sides of the issue, this multi-pronged approach would halt the march toward the mass killing or unrestricted sale (to slaughter) of tens of thousands of wild horses, steps proposed by the administration and members of Congress in recent years. It will also shift the Bureau of Land Management’s approach away from almost 50 years of divisive and often deadly roundups and towards a humane, minimally intrusive management of wild horses and burros on our public lands.

The Senate committee voted to mandate that:

–the strategy “must not include any sales or actions that result in the destruction of healthy animals,”

–removals must be conducted in strict compliance with BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a set of humane handling standards,

–horses be relocated from high-cost corrals to more natural and lower-cost off-range pastures,

–and that BLM work with stakeholders to increase adoptions.

Importantly, the guiding report language that tools used to slow wild horse population growth must be “proven, safe and humane” – a standard that the sterilization of mares, which RTF strongly opposes, does not meet.

The House Appropriations in May voted to approve $6 million for a pilot of the stakeholder proposal with similar language as part of its Fiscal Year 2020 Interior Appropriations bill. The two chambers will need to work out their funding differences in Conference Committee.

Both the House and Senate Interior bills also continue to bar the Bureau of Land Management from killing healthy unadopted wild horses and burros or selling them without restriction, placing them in jeopardy of being sold to kill buyers. In addition, RTF successfully lobbied both appropriations committees to ensure language was included that would bar U.S. Forest Service from killing healthy horses or selling them without restriction.

RTF also continued to press forward with lobbying, grassroots advocacy and legal efforts to stop horse slaughter:

--Both the House and Senate versions of the Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture appropriations including an amendment continuing a temporary ban on horse slaughter.

--The House version of the SAFE Act (H.R. 961) to permanently ban horse slaughter and the transportation of horses has amassed 187 bipartisan cosponsors. The more recently introduced Senate version (S. 2006) has three.

--The California Legislature passed A.B. 128, a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s existing laws against horse slaughter. The bill, on the governor’s desk as of this writing, was prompted by a U.S. Forest Service effort to sell older wild horses captured in 2018 at the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California without protections against slaughter.

--RTF joined other advocates in filing suit against the USFS to stop the unrestricted sale. Court-ordered settlement talks are ongoing. In the meantime, USFS has placed all of the older horses in homes, including 12 now safely at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Return to Freedom faces a particularly challenging mission, as we must honor our solemn promise to the horses and burros in our care, while simultaneously raising our voice on the national stage on behalf of wild equines, working with other organizations, government agencies and a wide range of other stakeholders in the use of our public lands.
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Support

This work can’t be done without the ongoing support from horse advocates such as our friends here on Global Giving have provided so generously. To continue this mission for the horses here and still on the range, we depend on others who care chipping in what they can. Alone, we can do little, but together, we add up to a mighty army.

To the Wild Ones, and those who love and respect them,

All of Us at Return to Freedom

RTF Tours are a learning experience
RTF Tours are a learning experience
Up close and personal on Youth and Family Day
Up close and personal on Youth and Family Day
On the hay truck,Youth + Family Day-nice Spirit T!
On the hay truck,Youth + Family Day-nice Spirit T!
Making a new friend at RTF-SLO
Making a new friend at RTF-SLO
" Say "Hay"! "
" Say "Hay"! "

Links:

Aug 13, 2019

The Gila Herd-Good and Getting Better

Hey, we have company!
Hey, we have company!

The rescued Gila herd continues to do well at their current home on 1000 acres of leased pasture in Alturas, CA. Changes are coming, as RTF now has an opportunity to move more than half of the herd to a private Ranch in Shasta County, CA, mirroring our other satellite in San Luis Obispo and expanding our Mustang Conservator program to facilitate ranch owners to provide private life long sanctuary for rescued wild horses and burros.  

These satellites are the beginning of what we hope to be an eventually more common practice of private landholders willing to take in family bands and herds who have been removed from public lands, allowing them, as RTF has, to keep their social structure intact even though they have lost their homes on the range.

In preparation for this move, we have had 100 tons of meadow grass hay harvested from the ranch and stored in the barn there at the new location in preparation for the coming winter.  Also, in the next couple of weeks, we will be tearing down old fencing at the new ranch and building new ones.

While this relocation reduces lease costs, we still carry the cost of on-going operational needs for daily oversight and care.  It’s only knowing that our supporters—like you—are with us, that we can have the faith to proceed with this exciting opportunity.

We have also been caring for several Gilas at our headquarters in Lompoc, CA, and 2 more geldings have recently been adopted together and will go to their new home in September.

Thank you for getting the herd to CA, and for helping them find interim pasture as they make their way down the trail to lasting sanctuary and new homes and friends. We—and they—still need you by our side as we undertake this new chapter in the story of the Gila Herd.

All of Us at RTF

RTF Biologist Celeste chats with Gila herd member
RTF Biologist Celeste chats with Gila herd member
Thank you for helping me
Thank you for helping me
We still need you
We still need you
Happy Hour
Happy Hour
The day comes to an end...
The day comes to an end...
Jul 5, 2019

Spring Has Come And Gone, But the Work Goes On

Aaron on weed control!
Aaron on weed control!

It’s hard to believe that 3 months have passed since we last checked in with you, but when you’re taking care of over 500 wild horses and burros, providing programs to educate the public about wild horses and advocating for them daily on the national stage, time moves quickly.

As far as work on the Sanctuary and our satellite locations, weather and its lingering effects figure heavily into the daily non-horse tasks. We had a total of 28 inches of rainfall, and when it rains, the adobe clay at our headquarters in Lompoc makes everything more challenging. The sanctuary sustained damage to structures, many fallen trees, and a lot of damage to our access roads and erosion to the creek beds that run through the sanctuary property.

Feeding horses, administering routine health regimens and special attention to horses with extra needs never ends. Repairs of damage from wind and rain, and everyday maintenance, like checking and repairing fencing, keep our ranch staff busy. With the rain also comes accelerated growth of undesirable weeds, which must be kept in control for access to every area of the sanctuary. Fencing also had to be added to the land in Alturas, CA, where RTF’s rescued Gila Herd resides.

Sometimes there are strenuous missions which are out of the ordinary. Jason, RTF’s Ranch Manager, flew to Virginia to pick up a horse trailer that was kindly donated to RTF, buy a much-needed used ranch pickup, then drove to Pennsylvania pick-up a Choctaw stallion for the Choctaw herd, also donated to RTF. With the horse securely and safely loaded, he then drove back to our Lompoc, CA headquarters. A 3655-mile drive- all in several days work for dedicated Jason.

Due to changing weather, medical needs and other logistics, we sometimes move horses and burros around on the Sanctuary in Lompoc, and between our several satellite and pasture holding locations.

In Aprilhorses were released from smaller pastures and winter corrals at Lompoc headquarters, including16 stallions, 5 from Chief’s herd, 7 from Bear’s herd, and 9 Gila geldings went out in pastures to graze on the grass growing from the rains. On the 21st, the Choctaw stallion, Runner, arrived in Lompoc from the Virginia trip. At the end of the month, our 8 horses who had been in Santa Ynez, escaping the months of Lompoc mud, came back home to a warm welcome. By end of April we were able to start safaris at the 2000-acre satellite in San Luis Obispo, once the roads dried up!

In May, Silver King, who was brought to our Lompoc facility for 3 months to recover from an injury, went back to join the herd at our San Luis Obispo location, a new colt was born to Esperanza, and a filly was born to Ebony, two of the Spanish mares who arrived from Wyoming this winter with 30 other Spanish mustangs. The newly-arrived mares were all treated with PZP,  a non-hormonal, reversible birth control to keep the sanctuary population stable while maintaining natural herd behaviors. It does not interfere with existing pregnancies, so as of this update, two foals have been born to the new group from Wyoming with another on the way. From April to June we administered birth control to 37 mares, including all 26 Spanish mares who just arrived in December.

Finally, in Juneour new jenny, Freya, arrived in Lompoc and was gradually introduced to the RTF burros and went into their forest lair with them. During this month, RTF ranch staff at our Lompoc location also trimmed the hooves of 31 horses by hand and 75 in the chute, dewormed all 157 of the horses here and did tick treatments as well. Staff is still concerned about and treating one of the Spanish mares who arrived this winter with an infection (mastitis), as her foaling date seems to be coming soon.

Our 24 burros at the Lompoc location were moved around the ranch, grazing down the grass in ravines, alley ways and along access roads--the best kind of fire control there is. Before bringing them back to their oak forest, they were all dewormed and hooves trimmed. We are also moving horses strategically around the ranch for more balanced grazing opportunities.

Educational programs are a large part of RTF’s mission. Even events like photo safaris and workshops are used not only to teach skills, but also inform participants about the plight of America’s wild horses and burros, and to make them better advocates, well-equipped to spread the word accurately about the issue.

Between Volunteer Day, Tours, Photo Safaris and Special Event clinics, RTF has had nearly 300 program attendees since May. We have had the good fortune to meet so many wonderful people, and they never forget their experience at RTF, spending time up close and personal to the herds living here.

Return to Freedom also works every day to change and improve the way horses are managed on our public lands. Some of the policies we support affect all horses. Slaughter is one of those practices which threatens all equines, both wild and domestic.

Return to Freedom is working hard in the fight against horse slaughter: the ultimate betrayal of the horses, burros and other equines so important to our country’s history and culture. 

In the House of Representatives, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act has amassed 155 bipartisan cosponsors since being reintroduced in February as H.R. 961. The bill would permanently ban slaughter and the transportation of horses out of the country for that purpose. 

Until the SAFE Act becomes law, RTF works each year to ensure that language is included in the annual Agriculture appropriations bill prohibiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using tax dollars to hire horsemeat inspectors. This serves as a temporary ban and has helped keep horse slaughter plants in the United States closed since 2007. 

As part of Fiscal Year 2020 Interior Appropriations bill, which funds the Bureau of Land Management, lawmakers have included key protective provisions for which RTF lobbied hard. These would bar BLM from selling wild horses without restriction -- a path into the slaughter pipeline -- as well as the agency itself killing healthy wild horses and burros. 

RTF remains involved in federal court-ordered settlement talks with the Forest Service over that attempt to sell captured wild horses without restrictions. For now, a stipulated prohibition remains in place, keeping the agency from selling horses without slaughter protections. 

We are also supporting a California bill, A.B.128, aimed at strengthening the state’s existing anti-slaughter law. The bill has passed in the Assembly and moved on to the State Senate. 

We are also part of a joint proposal to Congress by RTF, the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA and other rangeland stakeholders intended to force the Bureau of Land Management to implement for the first time a meaningful fertility control program to end roundups as the primary means of managing our nation’s wild horses. 

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted a bill to fund several agencies for Fiscal Year 2020, including the Department of the Interior. The bill includes $6 million to partly fund the proposal to use safe, proven and humane fertility control alongside removals from two to three Herd Management Areas. As mentioned above, it includes language that would bar BLM from killing horses or selling them to slaughter. It also demands for the first time that BLM follow its own humane handling guidelines in the agency’s own Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program for each horse removed from the range; relocate captured horses from corrals to cheaper, more natural pastures; and requires BLM to report back to Congress quarterly on the progress of the wild horse program. 

Being simultaneously a sanctuary and an educational and advocacy organization is a tall order, but with the help of so many loyal supporters over our 20-plus years of operation, Return to Freedom continues to provide a good life for our own residents, and to fight for justice for their counterparts on the range. 

Thank you for always being there, so that RTF can always be here.

All of Us at RTF

 

Pasture maintenance
Pasture maintenance
Putting up fencing
Putting up fencing
Gerri Halsey with Fuego and Nora on Family Day
Gerri Halsey with Fuego and Nora on Family Day
You might meet anyone on a Tour
You might meet anyone on a Tour
Doing dishes for the horses
Doing dishes for the horses

Links:

 
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