RENO, Nev. — The head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Nevada is appealing to agency employees to blow the whistle on any abuse of mustangs.
Amy Lueders said that's the best way to stop horse protection advocates from undermining the agency's roundup policies with video footage of the mistreatment of the horses and other animals and making it harder for federal land managers to win the public's trust.
"Regardless of title, whether you are a contractor or law enforcement or public affairs, that's everyone's responsibility," she said in an interview with the Associated Press.
In the past year, BLM has been taken to task by its own internal auditors, independent reviews, a U.S. district judge and camera-toting horse advocates.
A BLM task force that reviewed a roundup near the Nevada-Utah line in July found some mustangs were whipped in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by a rope around the neck and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods.
Twice this year, BLM has issued reports or statements pledging reforms to ensure humane treatment only to have videos of new incidents of mistreatment surface within days.
This month, Ginger Kathrens was pointing her camera at the wranglers who appeared to be repeatedly shocking several burros with an electric prod.
The practice, called "hot-shotting," is used to help move animals into a pen or trailer and it was being employed on the same day BLM chief Bob Abbey issued a report pledging more changes.
Among other things, the report said electrical prods should be used only as a last resort when human or animal safety is in jeopardy, and that they should never be used on a horse's head or genitals.
"I thought it was ironic that while Bob Abbey was announcing the reforms, I was filming the hot-shotting of the burros," said Ms. Kathrens, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who is the executive director of the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation, a nonprofit horse advocacy group.
Ms. Kathrens said she was about the length of two football fields away when, zooming in with her professional lenses, she captured the footage.
The video shows the end points on the prods producing a shock when a wrangler lifted it into the air. Officials for the U.S. Agriculture Department and BLM were standing near the wranglers and witnessed the shocks but did nothing to interfere, she said.
That's where Ms. Lueders said agency workers have to do a better job.
Ms. Lueders delivered that message to several dozen employees in a video teleconference involving all of Nevada's BLM offices last week, saying there's no excuse for turning the other way if they get wind of any inhumane treatment of animals.
Ms. Lueders said, however, that it may be easier said than done when it comes to persuading workers to step up in what is often a controversial, and emotionally charged, situation.
But she said she believes her message got through.
"I made it very clear that is my expectation," she said. "We have a lot of committed, passionate people here who care very much about the resource and the animals themselves. You can tell by that passion and professionalism that everyone takes it very seriously."
Lisa Ross, a public affairs specialist for the BLM in Winnemucca, Nev., said Ms. Lueders' words were well received and will be taken seriously.
"It's a very important message to hear," Ms. Ross said. "It doesn't mean that everything was wrong and now we are making it right. It's just that it is important and everybody needs to be on the same page on this."
About 33,000 wild horses freely roam 10 Western states — about half of them in Nevada. Another 41,000 are kept in government-funded facilities, including one in Herriman, Utah, that came under fire as a result of more video footage taken by horse protection advocates last spring.