Public Observation of Wild Horse and Burro Gathers

IM 2010-164
Instruction Memorandum



July 22, 2010


In Reply Refer To:

4710 (260) P



Instruction Memorandum No. 2010-164

Expires: 09/30/2011


To:                   All Field Officials (except Alaska)

From:               Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject:           Public Observation of Wild Horse and Burro Gathers

Program Area:  Wild Horse and Burro Program

Purpose:  The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to establish policy for public observation of wild horse and burro (WH&B) gathers. 

Policy/Action:  The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) policy is to accommodate public requests to observe a gather primarily through advance appointment, on days and at times scheduled by the authorized officer.  Planning for one public observation day per week is suggested.   

Specific viewing opportunities will be based on the availability of staff with the necessary expertise to safely and effectively host visitors, as well as other gather-specific considerations (e.g., weather, terrain, road access, landownership).  The public should be advised that observation days are tentative and may change due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g., weather, wildfire, trap relocation, equipment repair, etc.). To ensure safety, the number of people allowed per observation day will be determined by the District Manager (DM) and/or Field Office Manager (FM) in consultation with the Contracting Officer’s Representative/WH&B Specialist (COR) for the gather.

The DM/FM has the primary responsibility for effectively planning and managing public observation of the gather operation.  Advance planning will:

  • Ensure that the public have opportunities to safely observe wild horse gathers;
  • Minimize the potential for disruption of the gather’s execution;
  • Maximize the safety of the animals, visitors, and the BLM and contractor personnel;
  • Provide for successful management of visitors; and
  • Ensure preparedness in the event of unanticipated situations.

The authorized officer will consider the following when planning for public observation of WH&B gather operations. Also see Attachment 1 (Best Practices When Planning for Public Observation at Gathers).

A. Safety Requirements

During WH&B gathers, the safety of the animals, the BLM and contractor personnel, and the public is of paramount importance.Because of the inherent risk involved in working with WH&B, the public will not be allowed inside corrals or pens or be in direct contact with the animals.Viewing opportunities during the gather operation must always be maintained at a safe distance (e.g., when animals are being herded into or worked at the trap or temporary holding facility, including sorting, loading) to assure the safety of the animals, the BLM and contractor personnel, and the public.

Unless an emergency situation exists, the BLM’s policy prohibits the transportation of members of the public in Government or Contractor-owned or leased vehicles or equipment.Therefore, observers are responsible for providing their own transportation to and from the gather site and assume all liability for such transportation.

The helicopter/aircraft is the private property of the gather contractor.  Due to liability and safety concerns, Bureau policy prohibits observers from riding in or mounting cameras onto the aircraft.   Should observers create unsafe flying and gathering conditions, for example, by hiring an aircraft to film or view a gather, the COR, in consultation with the gather contractor, will immediately cease gather operations. 

The COR has the authority to stop the gather operation when the public engage in behavior that has the potential to result in harm or injury to the animals, employees, or other members of the public.

B.  Planning for Public Observation at WH&B Gathers

During advance planning for public observation at WH&B gathers, the authorized officer should consult with the State External Affairs Chief or appropriate Public Affairs office.   An internal communications plan will be developed for every gather (Attachment 2).    It may also be helpful to prepare answers to frequently asked questions (Attachment 3).

C.  Law Enforcement Plan

A separate Law Enforcement Plan should be developed if the need for law enforcement support is anticipated.  The Law Enforcement Plan must be approved in advance by the Special Agent-In-Charge (SAC) or the State Staff Ranger of the State in which the gather is occurring. 

D.  Temporary Closure to Public Access

Under the authority of section 303(a) of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act (43 U.S.C. 1733(a)), 43 CFR 8360.0-7, and 43 CFR 8364.1, the authorized officer may temporarily close public lands within all or a portion of the proposed gather area to public access when necessary to protect the health and safety of the animals, the public, contractors and employees.    Completion of a site-specific environmental analysis of the environmental impacts associated with the proposed closure and publication of a Federal Register Notice is required. 

E.  Gather Contract Pre-Work Conference

  • Talk to the contractor about how many members of the public are expected and when.  Discuss, and reach mutual agreement, about where best to position the public at the individual trap-sites to allow the gather to be observed, while accomplishing the gather objectives and assuring the humane treatment of the animals and the safety of the BLM and contractor personnel, and public. 
  • No deviation from the selected viewing location(s) should be made, unless the gather operation is being adversely impacted.  The COR will consult with the gather contractor prior to making any changes in the selected viewing locations.
  • The BLM’s policy prohibits it from ferrying observers in the helicopter or any other mode of conveyance unless an emergency situation exists.  Review this policy with the contractor during the pre-work conference. 

F.  Radio Communication

  • Assure there is effective radio communication between law enforcement personnel, gather COR or project inspectors (PIs), and other BLM staff.
  • Identify the radio frequencies to be used. 
  • Communication with the gather contractor is through the BLM COR or PI, and from the gather contractor to the helicopter pilot.  Direct communication between BLM personnel (other than the COR) and the helicopter pilot is not permitted, unless agreed upon by the BLM authorized officer and the contractor in advance, or the pilot is requesting information from the COR.

G.  Pre- and Post-Action Gather Briefings

  • Pre-briefings conducted by knowledgeable and experienced BLM staff can be helpful to the public. 
  • The pre-gather briefing is an opportunity to explain what individuals will see, why the BLM is conducting the gather, how the animals will be handled, etc.
  • Post-action briefings may also be helpful in interpreting and explaining what individuals saw, what happened, why certain actions were taken, etc.

H.  Summary of Individual Roles and Responsibilities

      1.  District and/or Field Office Managers

DMs and/or FMs are responsible for keeping the State Director and State WH&B Lead fully informed about the gather operation.  Included is working with State/local public affairs staff to prepare early alerts if needed.  An additional responsibility is determining if a law enforcement presence is needed.

2.  Public Affairs Staff

The local district/field office public affairs staff is responsible for working with the COR, DM/FM, other appropriate staff, the State WH&B Program Lead, and the State Office of Communications to implement the communications strategy regarding the gather.

3.  Law Enforcement

Develop and execute the law enforcement plan in consultation with District/Field Office Managers, the COR/PI, and the State’s Special Agent-In-Charge or State Staff Ranger.

  1. Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR)/Project Inspectors (PIs)

The COR and the PI’s primary responsibility is to administer the contract and manage the gather.  A key element of this responsibility is to assure the safe and humane handling of WH&B.  The COR is also responsible for working closely with the DM/FM and Public Affairs Staff to develop the communication plan, and for maintaining a line of communication with State, District, and Field Office managers, staff and specialists on the progress of, and any issues related to, the gather operation. 

Timeframe:  This instruction memorandum is effective immediately.

Budget Impact:   Higher labor costs will be incurred while accommodating increased interest from the public to attend gather events.  The budget impacts of unanticipated situations which can occur during WH&B gathers include substantial unplanned overtime and per diem expense.  Through advance planning, necessary support staff can be identified (e.g., law enforcement, public affairs, or other BLM staff) and the cost-effectiveness of various options for providing staff support can be evaluated.  In situations where public interest in a gather operation is greater than anticipated, the affected state should coordinate with the national program office and headquarters for assistance with personnel and funding.

Background:  Heightened interest from the public to observe WH&B gathers has occurred.  Advance planning for public observation of gather operations can minimize the potential for unanticipated situations to occur during WH&B gathers and assure the safety of the animals, the BLM and contractor personnel, and the public.

Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: No change or affect to the BLM manuals or handbooks is required.

Coordination:  This IM was coordinated among WO-200 and WO-260 staff, State WH&B Program Leads, field WH&B Specialists, public affairs, and law enforcement staff in the field.

Contact:  Questions concerning this policy should be directed to Susie Stokke in the Washington Office at (202) 912-7262 or Lili Thomas in the National Program Office at (775) 861-6457.


Signed by:                                                       Authenticated by:

Bud C. Cribley                                                Robert M. Williams

Acting, Assistant Director                              Division of IRM Governance,WO-560

Renewable Resources and Planning


4 Attachments

      1 – Best Practices When Planning for Public Observation at Gathers (1 p)

      2 – Internal Communications Plan Example (3 pp)

      3 – Example Questions and Answers (Q and As) (2 pp)

4 – Example “What to Know Before You Go” (2 pp)