FOIA Records Peel Back the Curtain on Consequences of Wild Horse Roundups

The Twin Peaks Herd Management Area (HMA) is located on the California/Nevada border in Lassen County, California, and Washoe County, Nevada. It spans an impressive 800,000 acres of both public and private land. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a helicopter roundup and removal from the Twin Peaks HMA from July 23rd, 2022, to August 15, 2022. 

While BLM reported 31 deaths at the roundup, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records show that there were an additional 69 deaths, which occurred both during the operation and within 30 days after the end of the operation. All 69 deaths occurred at the government holding facility where the animals were being housed. 

These records are unique because an employee at the government's Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corrals recorded more observations and notes than we’ve seen in other records from other holding facilities or operations. This inconsistency is indicative of a larger problem within BLM records and highlights that there is often more to the story than what’s given in the information we receive publicly or even in FOIA records. 

According to the “notes tab” spreadsheet in the released records, 22 deaths were directly caused by the roundup operation. 14 of these were very young foals (babies) who died due to causes such as the following: 

● “2022 Twin Peaks Gather Related Injuries and Death!! (emphasis added) This approximately 3‐Month‐Old Fillie came in from the Twin Peaks Gather on 7/31/22, she was very tired, very sore footed and barely able to move. Wrangler Staff treated with Banamine shortly after arrival on 7/31/22. Dr. (REDACTED), DVM treated the foal on 8/5/22 which included molding some special silicone shoes to aid in healing the hooves. This foal was unfortunately found dead in one of our isolation pens this morning. Dr. (REDACTED), DVM, stated that these foals are foundering due to being run too far during the gather.” (emphasis added) 

● “Approximately a 2‐month old foal that arrived from the 2022 Twin Peaks Gather on 7/31/22. This foal arrived at the Litchfield Corrals so tired and so sore it could barely move. Suspect this foals death was from the stress of being run long distances in rough terrain and in high temperatures” (emphasis added) 

● “down on truck on arrival, internal injuries. Died on its own after arrival.”

● This foal was being treated by our Veterinarian, Dr. (REDACTED), DVM for gather related hoof issues (founder). Unfortunately its little body was unable to recover and survive its gather related injuries. A Necropsy was completed. Lab results are pending. 

● “This yearling filly had gather related hoof issues (founder) that she was being treated for. Unfortunately she was unable to recover from her gather related injuries and had to be euthanized.” 

● “myopathy post gather” 

● “3‐4 month old foal found dead in mare/foal pen. Necropsy showed no obvious cause of death, possible stress from gather” 

The FOIA noted other roundup-related deaths occurring at the Litchfield Corrals in the days and weeks after the roundup. The causes of death included the following: 

● “Older mare found dead this mornig (sic) in the pen of turnout horses. Suspect that her death was 2022 Twin Peaks Gather Related. When she arrived at the Litchfield Corrals from the trap site you could see she was just exhausted, she was run in July, in rough terrain in high temperatures ranging from mid 90s to 100 degrees.” (emphasis added) 

● “2022 Twin Peaks Gather Related Injury ‐ 3‐year old Black Stud came with with (sic) a tendon sheath wound on his LF Leg, unable to heal/repair. Euthanized on 8/18/22” 

● “Mare arrived lame from gather, was unable to stand. Poor prognosis for recovery” 

● “Right Front hoof split badly to the bone. Cause most likely from bad rocky area. Only horse to have this injury.” 

These FOIA records raise concerns about the conduct of the BLM and its contractors during roundup operations as well as the truthfulness of the agency in recording the actual death rate of the roundup. Young foals run in the summer months are especially susceptible to causes of death such as capture myopathy and sloughing hooves. 

In addition to the concerning deaths after the conclusion of the operation, the roundup itself saw several animal welfare violations and raised severe concerns. AWHC on-the-ground observers documented BLM-contracted helicopters chasing too many wild horses into a small pen. Eventually, this led to the pen collapsing. As a result, horses were injured and the contractor’s staff were placed in severe danger.

Additionally, AWHC’s observers brought concerns about the heat and the distances during the roundup operation to the BLM incident commander, but there were no changes. 

Overall, the records from the Twin Peaks roundup offer a window into the reality of wild horse and burro roundups They show these operations are cruel, unnecessary, and often result in the avoidable deaths of these federally protected animals.