Victorious Dakota Access protesters unlikely to ride to the rescue
LANTRY, South Dakota––If just one Dakota Access pipeline protester in 10 could stop at the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros premises en route home from the multi-month vigil that kept the pipeline from crossing the Missouri River by passing under Lake Oahe, North Dakota, and take home a horse, Phillip Livestock of Phillip, South Dakota would not be preparing to sell as many as 650 former ISPMB horses on December 20, 2016.
That, however, might be called a pipe dream –– albeit perhaps a pipe dream no more unrealistic than 26-year International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros director Karen Sussman’s ongoing hopes of keeping the horses in her custody.
Sussman’s chances of keeping the ISPMB alive, at least on paper, and of acquiring and breeding more horses, are somewhat better, much to the concern of many of the people involved in trying to save the horses whose lives are now on the block.
Founded in 1960 by Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston, the ISPMB was instrumental in winning passage of a variety of local, state, and federal legislation to protect wild horses, culminating in the Wild Free-Ranging Horse & Burro Protection Act of 1971.
Under Sussman, 69, the ISPMB relocated in 1999 from Nevada to South Dakota, evolved into an experiment in “natural” horse population control, without the use of contraceptive measures, and collapsed when the numbers of horses predictably quadrupled in less than a decade.
Sussman found influential allies in making her case against wild horse fertility control in the national animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals and the FoA subsidiary Friends of Wild Horses.
But, while Friends of Animals repeatedly made much of Sussman’s self-proclaimed success in “natural” herd management, and helped Sussman to raise funds before the discovery of dead and starving horses at the ISPMB sanctuary in September 2016, FoA appears to have said little about either Sussman or ISPMB since then.
Friends of Animals and Friends of Wild Horses president Priscilla Feral did, however, acknowledge inability to pursue litigation on behalf of the ISPMB horses in a recent Facebook posting. (Left)
South of Standing Rock
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros occupies a 680-acre ranch overlapping the Dewey and Ziebach county lines, within the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, between the towns of Dupree and Lantry, South Dakota.
The ranch is just an hour and a half straight south of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, hub of what began as a strictly local campaign against the Dakota Access pipeline route, but over many months grew into an international cause célébre.
The debacle engulfing International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros since mid-September 2016 is unlikely to have as happy an ending, however, for the horses remaining there as the long-running battle over the Dakota Access pipeline route appeared to have reached on behalf of the Missouri River late on the afternoon of December 4, 2016.
Miracle on the Missouri
An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 protesters camped on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the Standing Rock reservation in snow and icy winds on December 4, 2016, on the eve of a deadline to leave the Corps property the following day.
Preparing for nonviolent resistance to anticipated mass arrests, almost within sight of where the Sioux chief Sitting Bull led the massacre of the last free-roaming plains bison herd in 1883 and was himself gunned down in 1890, the protesters had already endured months of previous clashes with sheriff’s deputies and private security guards, featuring dogs, tear gas, police shooting at protesters’ drones, and the use of water cannon against demonstrators in subfreezing weather.
(See also How Standing Rock 2016 echoes Birmingham 1963, Security guards set dogs on Sioux demonstrators at Standing Rock, and Standing Rock: Who let the dogs out?)
The cavalry came over the hill on the Lakota side
Instead, assistant secretary for civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy announced in Washington D.C. that the Corps of Engineers would not grant an easement required for the pipeline to pass beneath Lake Oahe and be completed. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” Darcy said.
The $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline, a subsidiary project of Energy Transfer Partners Inc., when completed is to transport about 470,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to a crude oil terminal in Illinois.
But no miracles for the horses
Phillip Livestock is expected to auction the remaining horses from the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros on December 20, 2016, according to the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office, which has had custody of the horses since mid-September 2016.
As many as 30 horses had already died of starvation, charged former employee Colleen Marie Burns. Burns’ 16-page affidavit and the September 14, 2016 discovery by South Dakota Animal Industry Board veterinarian Marc Hammrich of the remains of about 25 dead horses preceded the mass impoundment.
“The exact date that the horses will be loaded out to go to the sale” had not yet been determined when the sale announcement was made, the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office said. “The sale barn and the wrangler we have hired will arrange that date,” the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office continued in a Facebook [posting, “depending on weather and foreseen problems.”
“Things we just cannot help or fix”
“Please keep in mind that this is a very large impoundment with many complicated issues,” the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office reminded, “and we are all doing the best we can to get through this. If there is a problem we can fix, we will, but some things we just cannot help or fix.”
The auction announcement followed a December 1, 2016 confirmation from the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office that as of the deadline set on October 21, 2016, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros and Sussman had failed to reimburse Dewey and Ziebach counties for their expenses in feeding the 810 horses originally impounded.
Further, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros and Sussman had not met the condition for return of the horses that the organization have enough money in reserve to keep the horses adequately fed for at least 18 months: $1,100 per horse for each horse Sussman wished to retain, plus $100,000 in general operating funds.
Would-be adopters thwarted
From then to December 1, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros was allowed to adopt out horses to any other organizations and individuals whom Sussman approved as adopters, but was not allowed to adopt out more than 270 of the 810 impounded horses, or to adopt out more than 20 horses to any one person without prior consent of Dewey and Ziebach counties.
About 150 horses were reportedly evacuated, including four horses taken to Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont and seven blind horses taken in by This Old Horse, of Hastings, Minnesota. But many other would-be adopters reported via social media that they had been approved to take horses, only to be turned away with empty or only partially filled trailers after Sussman and other International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros volunteers turned them away or otherwise interfered with loading horses.
“At this point they are going to auction”
“If an organization or organizations came in and made a proposal [to reimburse the counties and take custody of the horses], we would consider it,” Dewey County state’s attorney Steven Aberle told Regina Garcia Cano of Associated Press. “At this point, they are going to auction. We have not been given any proposals. I know there are groups out there that want to do anything they can to keep them from going to auction.”
Wrote Garcia Cano, “Authorities put at roughly $100,000 the cost of caring for the 810 horses since they were impounded. Aberle said a grant and donations brought down the amount to $76,000,” of which Sussman paid $30,000, leaving $46,000 still owed.
“30 horses did not starve”
Said Sussman, denying the allegations against her, “Thirty horses did not starve to death. Yes, we did lose some, but they were 25 or 30 years old,” a claim contradicted by witnesses’ accounts of seeing and unsuccessfully seeking help for dying foals on the premises, described by Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal as “a glorified feedlot where horses stood on trampled dirt and nosed through their own manure,” awaiting hay that too often didn’t come––although Sussman was earlier in 2016 charged with felony grand theft for failing to pay for $9,394 worth of hay that was delivered.
“The charge was dropped in October 2016, after she made restitution to the victim,” Tupper reported.
Protect Mustangs & the Gila monster herd
Sussman and supporters including Anne Novak, director of Protect Mustangs in Berkeley, California, continued trying to raise funds to keep the remaining horses on the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros property.
Fulminated Novak in a December 4, 2016 post to social media, “One herd known as the Gila Herd Karen A. Sussman I believe saved. The rare herd has only 139 Mustangs so it seems they are self-sustaining and not overpopulating! That is the Truth. Do the PZP Pushers and PRO-SLAUGHTER Activists want you to be ignorant?”
Reality, however, is that the Gila herd, brought from Gila Bend, Arizona, had increased from just 30 since arriving in 2000.
Continued Novak, “Why haven’t groups helped the ISPMB reduce their herd through adoption, etc.,” ignoring that this is exactly what many frustrated organizations had tried to do, “and get a Big ranch so these native wild horses can graze half of the year to cut costs? Why did so many wild horses need to live on such a small piece of land?”
The more appropriate question would be, why did Sussman import approximately 260 horses from four wild herds in three states between 1999 and 2007, then amplify claims about her success in “natural” herd control even as the 260 exploded to 810, and even after acknowledging to Darla Scarlett of Farm Forum in April 2012 that the 400 horses she had then were twice as many as she wanted to have?
Novak went on to flamboyantly attack many people involved in trying to rescue the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros as “PZP Pushers and PRO-SLAUGHTER Activists,” in reference to Sussman’s rejection of the use of horse contraceptives based on porcine zona pellucida, and to the likelihood that many horses sent to auction may be sold to killer-buyers for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.
Novak also denounced the “HSUS Crowd of PZP Pushers,” referring to the Humane Society of the U.S. having funded some of the late Montana scientist and wild horse advocate Jay Kirkpatrick’s work to develop porcine zona pellucida for use in horses.
Responded the HSUS South Dakota office, in a prepared statement, “For several years, HSUS invested time and financial resources in population control solutions at ISPMB by both providing teams annually to administer the porcine zona pellucida fertility control drug, and hay donations. During these several years, HSUS staff counseled Karen Sussman that her herds were too big to be supported on the land she had. Even when ISPMB chose to discontinue the fertility control program, HSUS offered herd population management suggestions, and options for onsite gelding.
“Unfortunately, in 2012 HSUS was forced to cut ties when ISPMB leaders failed to follow our recommendations and take action necessary to manage population growth. While Sussman continued to plead for assistance to feed her growing herds she repeatedly rejected any assistance to stabilize it.
“In April 2016, upon receiving a cruelty complaint about worsening conditions at ISPMB, our South Dakota state director, Darci Adams, traveled to the ISPMB facility and, based on her observations, contacted the South Dakota Animal Industry Board’s state veterinarian.”
South Dakota Animal Industry Board veterinarian Marc Hammrich on September 14, 2016 found the remains of about 25 dead horses on the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros premises, leading to the mass impoundment of the survivors.
“Under its agreement with the local authorities,” the Humane Society of the U.S. statement added, “ISPMB could be allowed to maintain horses after the December 1st deadline. Unfortunately, and despite the urging of HSUS to the contrary, the state has thus far put no restrictions in place that will prevent ISPMB from continuing to breed animals. Furthermore, it is likely that most of the mares are pregnant and dozens of foals will be born this spring. In other words, regardless of how many horses are adopted and/or dispersed through auction, ISPMB will be allowed to continue to accumulate and breed horses on its property and thus we have reason to expect to be faced with this same tragic situation again at some point in the future.
“State law requires auction”
“State law requires the horses be sold at public auction,” HSUS explained, “because they have value as ‘livestock’ in South Dakota. ISPMB, by and through Karen Sussman, agreed to this stipulation: the counties will receive monies to recoup their impoundment expenses, and the balance of the sale proceeds will go to ISPMB. While law enforcement has agreed to allow pending adoptions for another 260 horses to be completed in coming weeks, this leaves another 400 to 500 horses at ISPMB still in peril. The HSUS is aware that reputable wild horse rescue organizations have offered to take and care for a substantial portion of those horses, yet Sussman has refused to allow that to happen.
“HSUS is strongly opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and we are deeply saddened that Sussman’s choices have put the horses at risk of being purchased at auction by kill buyers. Further, HSUS is disappointed that criminal animal neglect charges were not filed by the authorities in this case. Criminal proceedings could have provided an opportunity for all remaining horses to be forfeited and placed for adoption, and might have culminated in an order preventing Sussman from caring for horses in the future, and also preventing any further breeding or acquisition of horses.”
Stephanie Potter says
Missing the HSUS involvement is looking like something we as people concerned about the ISPMB missed. Not normally a fan of HSUS, in this case it could possibly have been the ally we were all looking for.
Great reporting on a very sad, confusing, and frustrating situation.
Thanks again for a job well done.
catherine ritlaw says
Susan Casteel says
We applied to adopt before the Dec. 1st deadline and never heard a word back … as I understand it there are many others out who were willing and able to adopt ..and with the publicity all horses could have been placed….sadly the horses will be the ones to pay the penalty for this mismanagement and unwillingness to place the horses in homes rather than letting them go to auction where kill buyers are waiting:(
No one in their right mind or any animal welfare organization, including FoA, approves of breeding horses in captive situations. Hundreds of horses on a few hundred fenced acres is not comparable to a few thousand wild horses on millions of acres of legal domain on Public lands across 10 states ~ apples and oranges.
Merritt Clifton says
Friends of Animals on many occasions spotlighted the alleged success of Karen Sussman and the International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs & Burros in controlling herd growth without the use of PZP contraceptions, for example in “What PZP Pushers Don’t Want You To Know,” by Nicole Rivard, in the Spring 2015 edition of the FoA membership magazine Action Line, when in truth the ISPMB horse population was tripling as result of uncontrolled breeding in under 10 years.
Disease, predation and starvation are all “natural” population control factors, so maybe her methods would have worked after all?
(extreme sarcasm here)
Shirl Linda says
I say, stop the auctions now and renovate the plan of approach and detail strategies to manage ISPMB sanctuary safely. Thus being said, appoint new board members, get additional land for the sanctuary and create a new administration for a new ISPMB. Possibly this thought could be supported through a joint committee, created by people who are all on the same page to save, nurture, care, nourish and maintain a complete healthy atmosphere for the horses that where rescued from the wild. Thus, the new director’s job would include finding new sponsorships, grants and reviews all ways to best sustain the New ISPMB organization, without the help or administration from BLM.
Merritt Clifton says
You can say what you like, but the upcoming auction of the remaining ISPMB horses is a simple matter of property law: Dewey and Ziebach counties expended public funds to feed the horses, who were impounded due to alleged neglect and were surrendered to the counties’ jurisdiction. Dewey and Ziebach counties are now obligated by law to recover as much of the money as possible, on behalf of the county taxpayers (in two counties, incidentally, which are among the least affluent in the entire U.S.) Leaving the horses there, with or without more land, is not an option unless someone is willing and able to reimburse the counties in lieu of the horses going to auction. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has had no jurisdiction over any of the horses since the last of them were titled to ISPMB, apparently more than 10 years ago, and never did have jurisdiction over at least 550 of the 810 who were impounded, since they were born at ISPMB and have never actually been “wild horses” in any sense of the term.