Jan 21, 2020

Another year closes at Return to Freedom

Spirit met himself in a painting.
Spirit met himself in a painting.

It's hard to believe that we at Return to Freedom, along with our supporters, have been caring for hundreds of captured wild horses and burros and fighting for their future on the range for 21 years. 

We've only been able to maintain the high quality of care and management of these displaced equines with the help of many people—office and ranch staff, volunteers, vendors, and most importantly, people like you who share our love and respect for the Wild Ones, and make this vision stay alive. In the past few months, with winter rains and the snow up north, the work has been hard, but seeing the happy horses lets us know it’s worth the work and expense.

At RTF headquarters in Lompoc, CA, we have begun planting the pastures with Montezuma Oats which gives some of the herds at this location a few months of grazing in late spring and early summer. We have to feed hay here all year long to some of the horses, but when the rain falls the grass grows and we do enjoy a few months with only light supplementation! In the winter, working with the rainy weather and mud, the daily routine is more than a full day’s work for our dedicated ranch staff.

Since October, RTF Ranch Manager Jason been up north in Shasta County, California at our newest satellite location, getting that location set up and running. Another private ranch owner has generously opened his gates to 64 of the Spanish Gila horses we rescued in 2017! Most recently Jason has been repairing and building new fencelines and moving electric fencing to rotate pastures, keeping the horses and the soil healthy! During the winter, he is utilizing the 100 tons of hay we cut this fall from one of the meadows there. We will be completing the alleys and sorting area in the chute area, where horses can be safely handled for hoof trimming and any necessary medical work. Our new chute is ready to be picked up and set up in a covered area so that the electric tilting chute and work area is protected and powered with a new electrical system. This will make working with the horses easier, safer and more efficient.

This past year, 750 people of all ages attended educational programs and special events at RTF’s Lompoc and San Luis Obispo sanctuary locations, ranging from monthly tours at the Lompoc location to Photo Safaris at the SLO satellite, all created with an eye toward giving visitors time to experience wild horses while learning about their behaviors, history and the challenges that they face on our public lands.

Some of RTF’s work puts an especially big smile on our faces—With the holidays coming to a close, and RTF’s Holiday Appreciation party fading into fond memory, we released two mares -- the inseparable Coco (Chanel) and Sophia (Loren) -- at our satellite sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, Calif. (See this happy event in the video link in this report.)

They were greeted—loudly—by many of the 24 burros that make their home on the rolling hills and, soon after, by some of the 82 other wild horses.

Coco and Sophia were among a dozen older horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in Northern California to which RTF was able to give sanctuary following a 2018 helicopter roundup. In all, the U.S. Forest Service captured and removed 932 wild horses from their home range during that roundup. When the agency announced unprecedented plans to sell the older horses without any restrictions against slaughter, RTF and other advocates filed suit in federal court to prevent the sale.  However, it dropped the price per horse from $25 to $1, increasing concerns any remaining “sale authority” horses would be purchased by kill buyers. 

With only a handful of older horses left in the government corral, including Sophia, Coco and 10 geldings, a very special donor stepped forward on their behalf and not only reached out to us to give them sanctuary, but sponsors them here as well. These horses are remnants from California’s early ranching heritage and have lived in Devil’s Garden for more than 140 years. (The Forest Service captured and removed another 499 wild horses from Devil’s Garden in 2019.)

As our friends who follow RTF know, as important as our Sanctuary and its residents are to us, we also work on the national stage to assure a real future for all of America’s wild horses and burros. 

In recent months, RTF successfully fought for the inclusion of language in the Fiscal Year 2020 federal funding package barring the Forest Service barred from euthanizing healthy horses and selling horses without restriction. Previously, Congress had applied those restrictions only to the Bureau of Land Management, and to burros who are still running free.

Return to Freedom also played a key role in securing a $21 million congressional investment for a wild horse management strategy built upon the use of proven, safe and humane fertility control, like we use at RTF. This additional funding for the Bureau of Land Management is a first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing, tearing apart families and warehousing these American icons.

Return to Freedom also used donated digital billboard time in New York’s Times Square and in ferry boat terminals to draw attention to both the issues of horse slaughter and protecting wild horses. RTF plans to expand the campaign to other cities in the year ahead.

RTF maintains a lobbyist on Capitol Hill (GlobalGiving donations are not used for this work) , and with that effort combined with grassroots support, has helped build majority, bipartisan support for current federal anti-slaughter bill, the SAFE Act, in the House of Representatives, where H.R. 961 has amassed 221 cosponsors. A total of 290 are needed to force a vote on the House floor. The Senate version of the bill, S. 2006, has three cosponsors but many more members of both parties are expected to support this important legislation.

RTF biologist Celeste Carlisle presented at a number of meetings and conferences in 2019, including in October.  Topics included how sanctuaries like RTF’s can advance applied management, the joint proposal to Congress and the role of fertility control in wild horse management. 

A member of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Carlisle has been an outspoken opponent of risky, costly and inhumane sterilization surgeries for wild mares and jennies. She also serves on a working group intended to improve low-stress handling techniques. The advisory board met in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29-31. Carlisle continued to educate members, including new members, about PZP and explain how and why spay via dangerous colpotemy was both unacceptable to advocates and not feasible.

There is much more RTF activity in the fight for wild horses and burros than can be covered here, but you can know for sure that your support becomes reality every day, as RTF works both for the horses and burros we see every day at the ranch, and the ones we may never see, living free, as they should, on America’s public lands. They all deserve our help, and they desperately need it.

Thank you for being a part of this important mission,

All of us at RTF.

Minnuette smiling after her morning breakfast!
Minnuette smiling after her morning breakfast!
At RTF's Holiday Appreciation Party
At RTF's Holiday Appreciation Party
More Holiday Appreciation!
More Holiday Appreciation!
Some of RTF's NYC Billboards for Wild Horses
Some of RTF's NYC Billboards for Wild Horses

Links:

Dec 2, 2019

RTF's Gila Herd On The Move

Gilas at their new home
Gilas at their new home

The Gila Herd rescued by RTF in 2017 has been thriving in their Alturas, CA home, and the overall herd health has dramatically improved both mentally and physically. 

However, we had a great opportunity to move some of them to an even better location in Shasta County, CA, in a situation mirroring our other satellite in San Luis Obispo and expanding our Mustang Conservator program to partner with private ranch owners to provide life-long sanctuary for bonded wild horses. Giving a home to displaced herds keeps their family bands together instead of splitting them up, never to see each other again, as they are when they are heading to Government or private profit-based holding.

In late summer, RTF Ranch Manager Jason began improving the infrastructure at a new satellite location in Northern California to prepare a new sanctuary for the Gila herd. After haying some of the meadows, we were able to stack 100 tons of hay for the horses there to have during winter months. Next came fencing. The fencing allows for good rotational grazing for holistic management to keep the land healthy and productive. Good fencing is a must, to keep RTF’s horses and burros safe and gently managed. In September our ranch manager moved up north to continue the improvements and to get ready to receive the herd to these greener pastures. Developing watering holes, bridges and safe handing corrals all needed to be done.

With the new location prepared, it was time to move the members of the herd who would be going to the new ranch location.  

Jason went to Alturas and set up corrals to stage horses for shipping. After he had sorted the horses who were to move from pastures to the pens, Neda DeMayo, RTF Founder and President, joined him in the large moving task. Neda and Jason, along with our newly-arrived resident volunteer from Norway, using two pickup trucks and two trailers hauled 64 horses to the new spot. This was roughly a 145-mile round trip. The move was done very carefully, so it was very successful and no injuries or unnecessary stress to the travellng horses occurred.

On Oct. 6tha total of 64 horses, including 4 mares with foals, were released onto green pastures in Shasta County.

The amazing thing is that the horses really sorted themselves! We created a large corral of 70 acres, that was fenced within the 1000-acre pasture in Alturas. Leaving the gates open for a few days and distributing hay all around, 64 horses closely bonded to each other ended up in the large corral trap, and 45 others remained out in the 70-acre field. Once assured that the horses were all settled in with their rightful bands, the gates were closed for a few days to be sure that anyone crying for someone was either let out or let in. Among the horses who made the trip are the younger yearlings and two-year-olds, with a handful of older horses who needed a boost and who will have an easier time at their new home. It was really amazing to see how the horses really did it all themselves, because trying to sort them in these larger areas would have been challenging.

Winter has started up North and snow is on the way! There is still a lot of work to be done, but the horses have plenty of natural forage and water.

We are so grateful to private landowners who have partnered with Return to Freedom as Mustang Conservators. 

45 of the Gila horses remained in Alturas. They may eventually also find a new location and may even be joining the others next spring, but for now, they’re doing great, and we are so glad we took the leap of saving them from auction and probable slaughter in 2017. Without continued support from people like our Global Giving Community, none of this would be possible, and the Gila story would have been a tragic one.

Thank you for your continued help and support in the saga of the Gila herd and their journey to and around California! We hope you watch the video linked to this update, it will show you what you have helped to accomplish. We are so grateful to you!

All of us at RTF

Let's have lunch...
Let's have lunch...
Horses sure like to eat!
Horses sure like to eat!
Small but Mighty work vehicle ready for liftoff
Small but Mighty work vehicle ready for liftoff
Gilas enjoying their new view
Gilas enjoying their new view

Links:

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:

 
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