Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Public and Media Management

IM 2013-058
Instruction Memorandum


January 23, 2013


In Reply Refer To:

4710 (WO 260) P



Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-058

Expires: 09/30/2014


To:                   All Field Office Officials (except Alaska)

From:               Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject:           Wild Horse and Burro Gathers:  Public and Media Management

Program Area:  Wild Horse and Burro (WH&B) Program

Purpose:  The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to establish policy and procedures for safe and transparent visitation by the public/media at WH&B gather operations, while ensuring the humane treatment of wild horses and burros.

Policy and Action:  Effective immediately, all State, District, and Field offices must comply with the new policy of this IM for all gathers within their jurisdiction.  This policy establishes the procedures for safe and transparent visitation by the public/media at WH&B gather operations.

This IM is part of a package of forthcoming IMs covering aspects of managing wild horse and burro gathers, including:

  • IM No. 2013-060, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Management by Incident Command System;
  • IM No. 2013-061, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Internal and External Communicating and Reporting;
  • IM No.  2013-059, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy

The BLM’s on-site Core Gather Team (CGT) consists of four individuals: an Incident Commander (IC), Lead Contracting Officer’s Representative (Lead COR), Lead Public Affairs Officer (Lead PAO), and Lead Law Enforcement Officer (Lead LEO). Specific roles and responsibilities of each of these core positions and all other personnel, including Contracting Officer (CO), are addressed in IM No. 2013-060, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers:  Management by Incident Command System.

National Policy Regarding Access for Public and Media Observation of Gather Operations

  • Every gather day is considered a public observation day unless the Agency Representative/Authorizing Officer (AR/AO) has made a decision to temporarily close or restrict access on public lands due to availability of gather observation sites, safety concerns or other considerations relevant to individual gather observations. Gather operations involve some level of inherent risk due to both the nature of working with wild animals, and risks associated with normal helicopter operations. Risks are highest near the trap-site area. The BLM generally allows members of the public an opportunity to safely view gather operations from designated observation areas near the trap-site and at temporary holding facilities, but they must be escorted to those areas by BLM personnel. If a trap-site space will not safely accommodate public/media observation, then alternative viewing opportunities will be discussed and resolved prior to gather operations beginning in a given area.
  • If the best location for gather facilities are on private lands or if access across private lands is necessary to access gather facilities on the public lands, prior to the start of the gather operations, BLM will make every effort to obtain permission from private landowners to allow for public ingress/egress through or to host the public/media visitation on the private lands. If permission cannot be obtained and public access limitations exist, this will be announced as soon as determined.  Every effort should be made in locating gather facilities to minimize such access limitations.
  • The IC should work to ensure that the public/media have opportunities to safely observe gather activities at the trap-site and temporary holding facilities when practicable. The IC should also work to ensure that gather safety is maintained at all times and that the public/media’s presence at the gather is successful.
  • The Lead COR coordinates the selection of the public/media-designated observation area(s) with the other members of the CGT and the Contractor to select the location that provides the best viewing of activities while also providing for the safety of the public/media, gather staff, Contracting staff and the animals.  All trap-site observation areas will be selected prior to the beginning of operations and before the arrival of public/media observers.
  • Decisions and changes to agreed upon start times for gather operations will be fully coordinated and communicated between the CGT and the Contractor, through the Lead COR. The Lead PAO will work closely with the CGT to make necessary coordination of planned daily public/media meeting times and locations to get public/media into designated observation areas prior to daily trapping activities, and at designated observation areas at temporary holding and shipping areas.  Opportunities for the public/media to visit temporary holding facilities and view the shipping activities should also be provided to the extent practicable.
  • The IC will ensure that decisions made and actions taken regarding public/media access to the trap-site, temporary holding facilities and other sites during the gather operations are in conformance with the standards found in existing guidance and that may be identified in IM. 2013-059, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.
  • The Lead PAO serves as the liaison between the CGT and the public/media and is responsible for conducting media interviews and managing public/media visits including facilitating the movement of public/media during all aspects of gather operations.
  • The Lead PAO will endeavor to provide stock B-roll footage of gather operations to the media upon request, resources permitting.
  • The Lead LEO ensures safety by addressing public actions that may pose a safety or operational threat to the gather, including the immediate removal from the gather of individuals exhibiting unsafe or disruptive behavior.  The IC is responsible for having any public/media exhibiting unsafe or disruptive behavior removed from the gather area immediately after consultation with the Lead LEO. Instances of unsafe or disruptive behavior will be immediately addressed.
  • Any disruptive behavior or interference with the gather operation by any member of the public/media, such that the safety, health, and welfare of animals or people is threatened, will result in the suspension or shutting down of the gather operation until the situation is resolved and safety is restored.  The authority to suspend gather operations lies with the Lead COR.  The authority to fully shut down gather operations lies with the CO. Specific authority for the enforcement of these concerns may be addressed by LEOs with the enforcement of 43 CFR 8365.1-4 (Public health, safety and comfort); and, if applicable when closure order exists, 43 CFR 8364.1(d) (Violation of Court Order or Restriction Order).
  • A LEO will be available at all times when the public/media are present within the gather operations area and at temporary holding/shipping areas. Exceptions to this will be determined by the CGT.
  • The on-site veterinarian may be asked by the IC or COR to help BLM with technical questions or information regarding animal health, condition, or welfare; but at no time shall an on-site or Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian be asked or allowed to address or directly answer questions from the public/media.  Requests directed to APHIS about their participation in gathers should be referred to APHIS Legislative and Public Affairs Media Coordinators.
  • The trap-site and temporary holding areas are designated as safety zones and only essential personnel will be allowed inside these safety zones during gather operations or while animals are in the trap or temporary holding areas.  Essential personnel will normally consist of the Lead COR, Project Inspector (PI), and on-site veterinarian. When other BLM personnel (such as the CGT, BLM videographers, and BLM photographers) have a need to be in the safety zone on a limited basis, they are authorized as temporary essential personnel for that purpose.
  • Where appropriate, the AR/AO may grant access to non-BLM personnel, such as Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy Auditors and National WH&B Advisory Board Members, to the safety zone on a limited basis, as temporary essential personnel.
  • The IC, State Director, and the WH&B Division Chief will jointly decide who constitutes temporary essential personnel in cases otherwise not described. 
  • Unofficial passengers (public/media, etc.) are not authorized to travel in government-owned vehicles in accordance with BLM Handbook G-1520-3 Fleet Management, Chapter 1. § III (B). 
  • The public/media are prohibited from riding or placing equipment in the helicopters contracted for a gather. The National Gather Contract Attachment 1 §C.9.d states “under no circumstances will the public or any media or media equipment be allowed in or on the gather helicopter while the helicopter is on a gather operation.”  The placement of public/media cameras or recording equipment on panels, gates and loading equipment including trucks and trailers are also prohibited.
  • The minimum distance between the public/media and the helicopter operations shall be established in accordance with “Guidance regarding distance of helicopter operations from persons and property during Wild Horse and Burro gather operations” issued by the BLM Fire and Aviation Directorate on June 14, 2011, as required by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.  However, within those constraints, the locations that will provide the best unobstructed view of the gather operations should be identified for public/media observation opportunities as described below.
  • The minimum distance between the public/media and non-essential personnel and the perimeter of the temporary holding facility should be established for the gather during the pre-work conference with the Contractor and prior to any public/media presence.  This viewing distance should result in minimal disturbance to the wild horses and burros held in the facility and should be flexible based on observed animal behavior and response. The CGT may consider the use of elevated viewing such as a flatbed trailer or hillside in those cases where the observation location is at a greater distance from the gather operation.
  • The CGT retains the discretion to provide additional viewing opportunities at the trap-site on a case-by-case basis after the Lead COR has determined that no helicopter or loading activities will occur for a minimum of 30 minutes or gather operations have concluded for the day, so long as the animals that might be observed have settled down and such additional opportunities can be provided in a manner that will not result in increased stress to the gathered horses or interference with the gather activities. The Lead COR will get the concurrence of the CGT and Contractor of such additional opportunities prior to offering it to the public/media.

Timeframe:  This IM is effective immediately.

Budget Impact:  Unit costs for conducting gathers for removals and population growth suppression efforts have increased as a result of the staffing necessary for internal and external reporting associated with increased transparency. The budget impacts of visitation that occurs during WH&B gathers include substantial unplanned overtime and per diem expense.  While limiting the number of BLM staff attending the gather to essential personnel may reduce gather costs, it should not be at the expense of the safety of the animals, gather personnel, or members of the public/media.

Background:  The BLM has a longstanding policy of allowing public/media to view WH&B gathers.  Advance planning helps ensure the safety of the animals, staff, Contractor personnel, and the public/media.  The number of public/media interested in viewing gathers has increased in recent years, though interest varies from one HMA to another as well as State to State.  In response to this, the BLM has implemented an Incident Command System to safely and appropriately manage the larger numbers of public/media. 

A high degree of interest from the public/media to observe WH&B gathers is expected to continue.  Strong communications and coordination among the on-site CGT will allow for safety and flexibility regarding the selection of observation areas for viewing trap-sites and the temporary holding facilities.

Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: None

Coordination:  This IM was coordinated among WO-200, WO-260, WO-600, WO-610, WO-LE, WH&B State Leads, WH&B Specialists, State External Affairs Leads, public affairs, and law enforcement staff in the field.

Contact:  Any questions regarding this IM can be directed to Joan Guilfoyle, Division Chief, Wild Horse and Burro Program (WO-260) at 202-912-7260, or Jeff Krauss, Division Chief, Public Affairs (WO-610) at 202-912-7410.



Signed by:                                                                   Authenticated by:

Edwin L. Roberson                                                     Robert M. Williams

Assistant Director                                                       Division of IRM Governance,WO-560

Renewable Resources and Planning