We know it has been kind of quiet around here lately. We are always working to advocate for these amazing horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND home. While we are in this in between time of waiting for TRNP to come back with their new analyses for the new management plan for the wild horses entrusted in their care, we thought maybe we could review a few facts and definitions as well as discuss some of the issues our board is discussing as we weigh our next steps in our advocacy efforts.
As you know, the National Park Service falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, an agency within our Federal Government. If you go to http://www.nps.gov you will see the following listed as a mission statement of the National Park Service:
“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”
In 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed. If you go to hhttp://www.foia.gov, you will see the following statement:
“Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.”
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates (CHWHA) is STILL waiting for a proper response from Theodore Roosevelt National Park from its FOIA request that was submitted on November 30, 2021. On January 3, 2022 (i.e., twenty working days after the request was submitted), DOI had yet to acknowledge CHWHA’s request. Consequently, CHWHA wrote to DOI’s FOIA office to request acknowledgement and a date-certain by which responsive disclosures would begin.
That same day, CHWHA received a letter from DOI seeking “clarification” of the request. There, DOI claimed that it was unable to process CHWHA’s request because it could not “determine the exact time period” for the requested records. Thus, DOI asked that CHWHA “specify a time frame or duration of time” in which DOI should search for responsive records. DOI’s clarification request did not identify any other deficiencies in the request.
CHWHA provided the requested clarifications by letter dated January 13, 2022.
On February 11, 2022, DOI issued a two-page “clarification” to its final response. That clarification, however, concerned only two of the categories in CHWHA’s Request. Because CHWHA has a strong basis to believe that responsive, non-exempt information has been improperly withheld by DOI, it appealed DOI’s final response on April 5, 2022.
However, by May 18, 2022—i.e., 30 working days after filing its FOIA appeal—DOI had not even acknowledge CHWHA’s appeal, let alone issued a final determination. In an effort to resolve DOI’s continued withholding of responsive, non-exempt records, CHWHA wrote to your office that day seeking acknowledgment of their appeal and a date certain by which a decision would be issued. That letter, too, went unacknowledged and unanswered. To date, i.e., more than 56 working days after their appeal was filed, CHWHA still has not received any acknowledgment of its appeal.
CHWHA sent another letter on June 29, 2022, and still has yet to receive any acknowledgement from TRNP or DOI.
FOIA provides that each agency “shall . . . make a determination with respect to any appeal within twenty days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) after the receipt of such appeal.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(ii) (emphases added). Likewise, DOI’s own regulations provide that “[t]he basic time limit for responding to an appeal is 20 workdays after receipt,” and if the agency cannot meet that deadline, it will notify the requester of its right to seek judicial review. 43 C.F.R. § 2.62.
As explained, DOI’s twenty-working-day response window has long since passed without even so much as an acknowledgment by the agency. DOI (and NPS’s) delay here is particularly troubling because the requested records relate to an ongoing management planning process for wild horses.
Our CHWHA board is now discussing the next steps for our organization in this process. Again, we believe that the information we are requesting may be critical to the new wild horse management plan. Our right to bring our request in front of a judge is something our board is discussing as the next step in this FOIA process.
FOIA provides a fee shifting provision to encourage transparency and ensure that the agencies are following FOIA. IF it is found that the NPS and DOI are wrongfully withholding information from CHWHA under the laws of FOIA, Theodore Roosevelt National Park will not only have to turn over copies of the documents CHWHA has been requesting since November of 2021, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park will also have to reimburse any legal fees incurred by CHWHA with regards to our FOIA request. CHWHA will have to pay any legal fees upfront and then hope that if we do litigate over this the judge rules in our favor which would include reimbursing our legal fees.
We have set up a separate Go Fund Me for our legal fund. You can make a donation through GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/chasing-horses-wild-horse-advocates-legal-fund?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1
You can also make a donation through any of the other methods shared on our website and specify that you would like it to go toward our legal fund. You can find donation information here: https://chwha.org/support-chwha/
The money raised for this campaign will be used solely for any legal fees we incur, which may or may not include litigation over this FOIA process. We hope you will continue to support Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates and our efforts to make sure these amazing wild horses are here for future generations to enjoy the same as we do today.
Thank you for your support!
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates is committed to advocating for a wild horse management plan and protection for these unique wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home! We are fighting for a management plan that is guided by science especially when it comes to decisions regarding the removal of horses and the administration of birth control. Many other wild horse management plans have proven to be successful with their science-based plans. We are asking for the same for this amazing group of wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home.