Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Management by Incident Command System

IM 2013-060
Instruction Memorandum



January 23, 2013


In Reply Refer To:

4710 (WO 260) P



Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-060

Expires: 09/30/2014


To:                   All Field Office Officials (except Alaska)

From:               Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject:           Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Management by Incident Command System

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

Purpose:  The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to establish policy and procedures for the Incident Command System (ICS) to enable safe, efficient, and successful WH&B gather operations.

Policy/Action:  Effective immediately, all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State, District, and Field Offices must comply with the new policy of this IM for all gathers within their jurisdiction.  This policy recognizes the importance of teamwork and the need to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each BLM employee involved in gather operations.

This IM is part of a package of IMs covering aspects of managing WH&B gathers:

  • IM No. 2013-058, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Public and Media Management
  • 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.

Gather Organizational Structure

Each gather will be led by an Agency Representative/Authorized Officer (AR/AO) who should delegate the authority to manage gather operations to an Incident Commander (IC). The IC leads the on-site Core Gather Team (CGT) consisting of a Lead Contracting Officer’s Representative (Lead COR), Lead Public Affairs Officer (Lead PAO), and Lead Law Enforcement Officer (Lead LEO).  The CGT is established for gather planning purposes, implementation of gather operations management, and responses to emerging needs throughout the course of the operation.  The CGT will develop a command structure and identify staffing needs for the gather.  Depending on gather complexity, duration, and special circumstances, the CGT may develop and recommend other positions for approval by the IC, such as additional Contracting Officer’s Representatives (COR), and Project Inspectors (PI), whose role(s) and reporting relationship within the command structure must be clearly identified.  All individuals assigned to the gather will report to the IC as illustrated in the Gather Command Structure Template (Attachment 1).  Non-gather agency personnel who are participating as observers fall under the authority of the IC while on-site.

The CGT will determine the appropriate number of gather personnel needed to:

  • Conduct a safe, humane, and effective gather within budget limitations;
  • Ensure the safety of all personnel, including gather staff, Contractors, public/media;
  • Ensure the welfare of animals being gathered and handled; and
  • Effectively manage expected public/media interest and attendance.

The ICS structure and procedures may differ for gathers of long-duration but must be followed for all gathers with two exceptions: nuisance gathers of fewer than 15 animals and certain bait trapping as approved by the AR/AO.  Some trapping gathers may require the same ICS and personnel (modified to meet the needs of the gather operation) depending on the number of animals captured, geographic location, and duration of gather. 

Employee safety and animal welfare are critical concerns, particularly during extensive gather periods.  Personnel assignments for long duration gathers shall consider reasonable employee rotations and days off.  In response to long days and inclement weather, employee safety shall be continually emphasized and monitored by the IC.

  1. Roles and Responsibilities

The following positions that are considered essential roles to successful and smooth gather operations are described in this section.  Additional positions as recommended by the CGT may be approved by the IC (Attachment 1).

On-Site Core Gather Team

The following positions are expected to be on-site during gather operations:

  1. Incident Commander (IC)

The IC should ideally be an individual who is a WH&B Specialist or a line manager with working knowledge of the WH&B program; who has previous gather operation experience; and who has current knowledge of program policy, procedures, and direction. The AR/AO delegates authority to the IC to manage the gather within the parameters of management expectations.  The IC:

  • Receives the Delegation of Authority (Attachment 2) from the AR/AO prior to the start of the gather;
  • Serves as deciding official on gather operations;
  • Supervises CGT members and makes on-site management decisions;
  • Receives management expectations from AR/AO, if applicable;
  • Is responsible for meeting the overall gather goals and objectives, including management, coordination and execution of all gather related activities;
  • Maintains regular communication that continually keeps AR/AO informed of gather status and emerging issues, conflicts and needs, including the need for Early Alerts;
  • Ensures continuity of the command structure;
  • Approves the Gather Operations Plan, ensures that the Plan is followed, and ensures that the AR/AO and all gather staff receive a copy of it prior to starting operations;
  • Coordinates the necessity for a pre-gather field trip to the Herd Management Area/Herd Area (HMA/HA) with appropriate staff;
  • Works with AR/AO to establish and maintain relationships and partnerships with all gather stake holders;
  • Provides for successful management of public/media, and ensures through the Lead PAO that the public/media have opportunities to safely and effectively observe gather activities at the trap-site and temporary holding facilities;
  • Ensures that decisions made and actions taken regarding public/media access to the trap-site, temporary holding facilities and other sites during gather operations are in conformance with standards described in IM No. 2013-059, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.
  • Ensures, after consultation with the Lead LEO, that any individual exhibiting unsafe or disruptive behavior is immediately removed from the gather area such that safety is restored;
  • Ensures preparedness in the event of unanticipated situations;
  • Ensures effective radio communications among staff, Contractor and pilot;
  • Establishes the time and location of daily debriefing, and facilitates conference calls as needed;
  • Completes and disseminates information using the Daily Gather Overview (Attachment 3);
  • Conducts the gather After Action Review (AAR); and
  • Implements orders for temporary closure/restricted access.
  1.  Lead Contracting Officer’s Representative (Lead COR)

The Lead COR should ideally be an individual who is the District/Field Office WH&B Specialist or someone very familiar with the HMA/HA and its wild horses and/or burros; who has previous gather operation experience; and has current knowledge of program policy, procedures, and direction.  The Lead COR:

  • Reports to the IC while on the gather operation;
  • Schedules and facilitates the Pre-Work Conference with the Contractor;
  • Manages all technical aspects of gather operations and provides direction to the Contractor as identified in the contract, and to operational staff including alternate CORs, PIs, COR trainees, fertility control applicators, recorders, branders, and veterinarians;
  • Oversees any temporary holding facilities or additional gather sites;
  • Ensures safe, humane, and efficient gathering of horses and burros in accordance with BLM policy;
  • Coordinates logistics with on-site Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian assigned to the gather, as needed;  
  • Coordinates with state brand inspection and animal health officials, as necessary;
  • Keeps the IC regularly informed throughout each day of the operation, regarding general animal conditions, numbers captured, emerging issues, or incidents;
  • Serves as point of contact for all communications with the Contractor, the Contracting Officer (CO) and National COR;
  • Works with the National COR and CO to address issues of concern and resolve any disputes with the Contractor;
  • Through coordination with the CO, ensures that corrective action is taken prior to continuance of operations in the case of any Contractor exhibiting unsafe or inhumane behavior toward the animals;
  • Following consultation with the IC, is authorized to suspend gather operations if an unsafe condition exists (the authority to fully shutdown gather operations lies with the CO);
  • Coordinates the selection of the public/media observation area with the IC, the other members of the CGT, and Contractor to address safety needs and visibility opportunities;

Develops the Risk Assessment Plan section of the Gather Operations Plan, updating it as needed as the gather operation progresses;

  • Ensures that each Gather Operations Plan has a plan for euthanizing animals as necessary, including provisions to ensure that persons carrying out the function have the required equipment and training, in accordance with current BLM policy and guidance;
  • Serves as a point of contact with the receiving facilities;
  • Develops a COR/PI staffing schedule that meets gather operational needs;
  • Participates in conference calls and meetings initiated by the IC;
  • Ensures the CGT is aware of the location of the gather site’s temporary holding facility and, if the temporary holding facility is on private land, ensures that any restrictions or permissions are documented in writing;
  • Provides accurate information necessary to complete the Daily Gather Overview (Attachment 3);
  • Completes the Final Gather Data Report (Attachment 4) within three days upon completion of the gather.  The data from this report will be used for the final website posting; and
  • Provides a copy of the Final Gather Data Report to WO-260 and inputs all gather data into the Wild Horse and Burro Program System (WHBPS) within three weeks of completing the gather (unless data entry has been assigned to the Local WH&B Specialist by the AR/AO).
  1. Lead Public Affairs Officer (Lead PAO)

The Lead PAO should ideally be an individual who is in the GS-1035 job series with extensive gather experience; who is familiar with the history, issues, and concerns of the HMA/HA; and who has current knowledge of program policy, procedures, and direction.  The Lead PAO:

  • Reports to the IC while on the gather operation;
  • Develops the External Communication Plan/Public Outreach Strategy sections of the Gather Operations Plan, in consultation with the CGT;
  • Develops a PAO staffing schedule that meets the public outreach goals identified by the CGT;
  • Provides direction to PAO staff assigned to the gather in order to meet the public outreach needs as identified by the CGT;
  • Confers with the IC regarding issues and communications regarding gather operations, activities, and incidents;
  • Serves as the BLM spokesperson for all media interviews;
  • Conducts and arranges media interviews and manages public/media visits;
  • Serves as the liaison between the CGT and the public/media;
  • Works closely with the CGT and Contractor to select the best location for public/media designated observation areas;
  • Facilitates movement and management of public/media to and from the gather operation areas;
  • Assures that public/media are in observation area prior to start of gather or shipping activities;
  • Establishes the public/media meeting location and time following coordination with IC, COR, and Contractor on upcoming gather activities; 
  • Identifies potential public affairs issues, develops appropriate responses, and works with CGT to implement appropriate responses;
  • Coordinates with the State Office public affairs team throughout the gather, including the dissemination of Early Alerts, information updates, etc., as needed;
  • Participates in conference calls/meetings initiated by the IC;
  • Ensures accurate information is posted via state website and other agency-approved social media outlets;
  • Ensures that information from the Final Gather Data Report is posted to website within three weeks upon completion of gather;
  • Ensures that gather related information found on social media internet sites by the National WH&B Information Center (Information Center) is conveyed to the CGT in a timely fashion; and
  • Ensures that the Information Center is aware of any gather related public/media issues that may arise.
  1. Lead Law Enforcement Officer (Lead LEO)

The Lead LEO should ideally be an individual who is familiar with WH&B Program policy, procedures, and direction; and has some knowledge of the particular HMA/HA.  The Lead LEO:

  • Reports to the IC while on the gather operation;
  • Develops the Law Enforcement Operations Plan and staffing plan in coordination with the AR/AO and State Chief Ranger to determine the appropriate LEO numbers for gather operations based on a law enforcement risk-assessment plan;
  • Consults with the IC regarding LEO roles during the gather operation;
  • Provides direction and duties to other LEOs assigned to the gather;
  • Remains available at all times when public/media are present within the gather operations area and at temporary holding/shipping areas (exceptions to this will be determined by CGT);
  • Coordinates with the State Chief Ranger and appropriate local law enforcement agencies;
  • Ensures safety by addressing public actions that may pose a safety or operational threat to the gather, including unsafe or disruptive behavior that requires the immediate removal from the gather area;
  • Controls and maintains access to gather and holding locations if such areas are under temporary closures; and
  • Participates in conference calls and meetings initiated by the IC.

Other Personnel

These personnel are typically not on-site during gather operations, but are generally available as needed for consultation with the CGT during the gather period.  When on-site, these positions, along with other BLM employees observing gather operations, report to the IC who remains responsible for the gather operations as a whole.

  1. Agency Representative/Authorized Officer (AR/AO)

It is desirable that the AR/AO be a District Manager, Field Manager or similar line officer who is familiar with the WH&B program, the gather EA, and the project area.  The AR/AO:

  • Identifies overall gather goals and objectives;
  • Develops a Delegation of Authority (Attachment 2) to the IC for mission completion during the period of the gather;
  • Designates individuals to the CGT;
  • Coordinates pre-gather coordination meeting;
  • Ensures that the appropriate government equipment needed for successful completion of gather is made available (to include satellite phones, radios, trailers, trucks, travel trailers);
  • Is readily available for consultation to address concerns with the IC during gather operations, whether on or off site;
  • Coordinates, with input from the IC, District, and/or State Office and Washington Office to resolve issues that arise from the gather operation;
  • Establishes and maintains relationships and partnerships with all gather stakeholders;
  • Ensures internal After Action Review (AAR) is completed;
  • Ensures that all gather data is entered into the Wild Horse and Burro Program System (WHBPS) by the local WH&B Specialist within three weeks of completing the Final Gather Data Report; and
  • Makes final decision and ensured implementation and coordination for temporary closures/restricted access through the IC.
  1. Contracting Officer (CO)

The CO:

  • Has final authority in all contract administration matters;
  • Following consultation with the IC, is authorized to stop gather operations if s/he believes an unsafe condition exists (the authority to suspend gather operations lies with the on-site Lead COR);
  • Administers or terminates contracts and makes related determinations and findings;
  • Determines any equitable adjustments to the contract price resulting from the execution of any of the change clauses in the contract or contract modifications; and
  • Identifies the gather COR (Lead).
  1.  National Contracting Officer’s Representative (National COR)

The National COR:

  • Serves as a contracting advisor to the Lead COR; and
  • Coordinates with the Lead COR and CO regarding disputes with the Contractor.
  1. Wild Horse and Burro Program State Lead (SL)

The SL:

  • Serves as technical consultant and advisor for all aspects of WH&B program management and operations;
    • Coordinates with the national Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian to arrange for an APHIS veterinarian to be assigned to the gather, as needed;
    • Reviews and provides technical support for all gather documents and data regarding upcoming gather operations;
    • Serves as liaison for DOI Regional Solicitor’s Office and Department of Justice attorneys, as needed;
    • Serves as liaison for WO-260 and the relevant state office; and
    • Finalizes all gather reports in the Wild Horse and Burro Program System (WHBPS) within four weeks of the Final Gather Data Report (Attachment 4) to ensure crossover into Performance Management Data System (PMDS).
  1. Local Wild Horse and Burro Specialist (Specialist)

The Specialist:

  • Serves as technical consultant with extensive knowledge of the HMA/HA, permitees/landowners, location of water sources/fences, herd history, distribution patterns, environmental conditions and other information pertinent to the area of gather operations;
  • Enters all gather data into the WHBPS within three weeks of completing the Final Gather Data Report (Attachment 4) when directed by the AR/AO.

10. Project Inspector (PI)

The PI may be designated by the Lead COR. The PI:

  • Performs as needed on-the-job Government inspection of work accomplished by the Contractor; and
  • Examines and inspects the Contractor equipment and services to ensure they conform to contract and legal requirements. 
  1. Pre-Gather Activities
  1. Meetings

Pre-gather coordination meetings are key to the success of the gather operation to ensure everyone is informed about all aspects of the gather.  These meetings should be held well enough in advance of the start of the gather to smoothly coordinate all operational and communication details with all parties, including management of possible public/media interest.  The roles and responsibilities of all gather staff should be discussed and finalized in these meetings.  The number, frequency, and agenda items of pre-gather meetings are at the discretion of the AR/AO, depending upon the size and complexity of the gather.  In addition to CGT members, attendees may include Field, District, and State Office level individuals that will be part of gather operations, as well as facility managers who will be receiving animals from the gather.

  1. Field Trips

A pre-gather field trip to the HMA/HA to review trap-sites, temporary holding sites, and potential observation areas is advantageous for ensuring full communication and coordination between the CGT and Contractor.  The trip also helps determine how the public/media will be accommodated.  The IC schedules the field trip with the CGT and other appropriate personnel.

  1. Preparation of the Gather Operations Plan

The Gather Operations Plan serves as an essential tool for gather staff during gather operations. The AR/AO will work with the Specialist and other staff as needed to assemble and provide copies of the Gather Operations Plan.  The Gather Operations Plan should consist of the following standard materials:

  • Gather Organization Chart  (Attachment 1)
  • Delegation of Authority between AR/AO and IC (Attachment 2)
  • Management Expectations, as applicable
  • Final Environmental Assessment, Decision Record/FONSI
  • Radio Communications Plan
  • External Communications Plan/Public Outreach Strategy
  • Law Enforcement Operations Plan
  • Risk Assessment Plan
  • Letter of permission from private landowners for use of property/facility(ies), as applicable
  • Maps
  • Roles and responsibilities of all gather staff.
  • Euthanasia Plan
  • Staffing schedules
  • “Guidance regarding distance of helicopter operations from persons and property during Wild Horse and Burro gather operations,” issued by BLM Fire and Aviation on June 14, 2011 (Attachment 5)
  • Temporary closure EA, if applicable

C.  Pre-Work Conference

Prior to the start of a gather, by regulation, the Lead COR shall meet with the Contractor to discuss the items listed below, and as called for in the contract. Whenever possible, all members of the CGT should participate in the pre-work conference.

  1. Review the contract/task order;
  2. Discuss the overall objectives/goals of the gather;
  3. Review regulations concerning flight distance; and
  4. Review maps pertinent to gather operations area. This may include maps relating to: land ownership, aerial safety hazards, fences, population inventories, road access, and any other maps deemed necessary.
  1. Access to the Operational Area

The Lead COR and Contractor shall identify the operational area necessary for safe execution of the gather operations including aviation, animal welfare, and transport. This information will be provided to all gather personnel so that accurate information can be relayed to the public/media. The IC will work with the CGT to discuss arrangements with the private landowner if the temporary holding facility is located on private land and will address concerns of public access limits and allowances on private land.

Aviation safety limitations and operational safety issues identified by the on-site pilot must conform to the following: 

  1. The helicopter pilot must comply with FAR Part 91. 
  2. The minimum distance between the public/media and the trap-site or 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 BLM Fire and Aviation Directorate on June 14, 2011 (Attachment 5).
  3. The trap operational area must be marked and designated as a safety zone and only essential personnel will be allowed inside this zone during any helicopter operations; or while animals are in the trap.  Essential personnel will typically consist of the Lead COR, alternate COR, PI, and on-site Veterinarian.  Other personnel who may need to be in this area includes the IC, Lead LEO, Lead PAO, and any BLM-authorized observers.
  4. Members of the public/media will have access to view the gather and holding areas from designated safe observation area(s). To ensure safety for the animals and people, the public/media will be escorted at all times by BLM-authorized personnel.
  5. Any interference with the gather operation by any individual(s), such that the safety, health and welfare of animals and/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.
  1. Radio Communications
  1. Direct communication between BLM personnel (other than the Lead COR) and the helicopter pilot is not permitted, unless an unsafe or emergency situation develops.
  2. Radio traffic for direct gather activities shall be limited to essential communications between the helicopter and on-the-ground operations (Contractor and Lead COR).
  3. These frequencies are specific to the WHB mission:

(1) Primary –   RX/TX                        163.100           RX/TX Tone 173.8

(2) Secondary - RX/TX168.350RX/TX Tone 173.8

  1. A third frequency should be established as a non-gather operational channel that can be used to coordinate personnel, logistical, or administrative actions required while on the gather.  Communications should be kept to a minimum and only as needed to conduct business.
  1. The use of ear buds for radio operation is at the discretion of the CGT and will be communicated to staff as appropriate. 
  1. Temporary Closure/Restricted Access

Where necessary for the safety of the animals, Contractor personnel, BLM employees, and the general public, the AR/AO may issue a temporary closure order to close or restrict use of public lands near or within a gather area.  In some circumstances, temporary closures can help to ensure continuity of gather operations and provide security from potential vandalism, interference, threats, or other criminal activities.

All orders to close or restrict use of public lands must comply with 43 CFR subpart 8364 and IM 2013-035 change 1, Requirements for Processing and Approving Temporary Public Land Closure and Restriction Orders. The decision for a temporary closure/restricted access is the responsibility of the AR/AO (unless the IC has received delegated authority) in consultation with the CGT. Temporary closures that are anticipated prior to the beginning of gather operations (non-emergency) require appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, documentation, and the publication of a Federal Register notice.  A closure or restriction order should be considered only after other management strategies and alternatives have been explored.

In the event of an emergency, immediate actions, such as a closure or restriction of uses of the public lands, must be taken to prevent or reduce risk to public health or safety, property, or important resources.  Emergencies are unforeseen events of such severity that they require immediate action to avoid dire consequences.  In an emergency, “alternative arrangements” may be established to comply with NEPA (40 CFR 1506.11). Alternative arrangements do not waive the requirement to comply with NEPA, but establish an alternative means for compliance. Once gather operations have begun, any emergency conditions requiring closures or restricted access will be implemented as soon as possible by the Lead LEO through the IC and applicable management.  Gather operations should be suspended prior to these closures to ensure the safety of all involved.

The size of the closure should be limited to only the area necessary to reduce the threat or mitigate the concern of the given situation and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for any given gather.

G. In-House BLM Gathers

In-House gathers would be conducted using the same ICS as outlined in this IM except for those sections addressing Contractors. Those duties performed by the Lead COR would be accomplished by the local WH&B Lead or other individual assigned by the AR/AO.

Time Frame:  This IM is effective immediately.

Budget Impact:  The budget impacts of unanticipated situations that can occur during WH&B gathers include substantial unplanned overtime and per diem expense.  Through advance planning, necessary support staff can be identified (i.e., law enforcement, public affairs, or other BLM staff).  Additional staffing cost (labor and travel only) from Fiscal Years 2009 through 2011 has increased an average of $110 per horse gather/removal (unit of JJ) to $280 per horse.  This average does not factor in operational costs, and there may be considerable variance by state due to the complexity of gathers.

Background:  The WH&B gathers have become increasingly complex due to an increase in public interest and the desire of large numbers of public or media to view gathers.  Advance planning for observation of gather operations can minimize the potential for unanticipated situations to occur and ensure the safety of the animals, staff, and Contractor personnel, as well as the public/media.  In response to this, the BLM has implemented a modified ICS at gathers.  As staffing needs vary by gather, the structure may be modified for effective staffing.  The BLM gathers will be conducted with humane handling of all animals involved of primary concern and in accordance with standards described in IM No. 2013-059, Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.

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

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.



Signed by:                                                                   Authenticated by:

Edwin L. Roberson                                                     Robert M. Williams

Assistant Director                                                       Division of IRM Governance,WO-560

Renewable Resources and Planning



5 Attachments

Attachment 1:  Gather Command Structure Template (1 p)

Attachment 2:  Delegation of Authority Template (1 p)

Attachment 3:  Gather Overview Format (1 p)

Attachment 4:  Final Data Report Format (2 pp)

Attachment 5:  “Guidance Regarding Distance of Helicopter Operations from Persons and Property during Wild Horse and Burro Gather Operations” issued by BLM Fire and Aviation on June 14, 2011 (3 pp)