Earlier this week, Grey's Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl posted a surreal series of pictures on her Instagram story. The first image was of a horse and its foal. Text on the image said "PLEASE READ!" The next image in the story was the same image, superimposed simply with White House press secretary Jen Psaki's email address.
Devoid of any context, the posts were bizarre, meme-like, and confusing.
But Heigl's post is part of a bigger campaign in which animal rights activists and celebrities are asking people to flood Psaki's inbox with emails asking the White House to stop a government project that they say is endangering a herd of wild horses in Utah.
Animal Wellness Action has spearheaded a months-long campaign to stop the Bureau of Land Management from gathering and removing 'excess' horses from the popular Onaqui herd in an attempt to control their population. The campaign attracted the support of celebrities like Heigl and Priscilla Presley, who both urged their thousands of social media followers to email Psaki to bring more attention to the cause.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. And when you're being ignored at the level we were, political correctness and protocols are out the window,” Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby told Motherboard. Irby estimates that Psaki could have received thousands of emails from their supporters.
Activists have tried to get in touch with the White House many times but have been unsuccessful outside of a few generic letters about animal rights or climate change that activists associated with the cause have received. Irby said that they have not heard from the White House, the Bureau of Land Management, or Psaki. Psaki also did not return Motherboard’s request for comment.
The Bureau of Land Management insists that some of the horses in this area of Utah need to be removed in order to protect both the health of the herd and the health of the Onaqui mountain range area.
The campaign has used multiple methods over the months to urge the federal government to stop the roundup from happening—including sharing a video featuring Brownie Scouts appealing to President Joe Biden and deploying a billboard truck to drive around the White House while playing a short film about the Onaqui horses. Heigl also attended a rally held at the Utah Capitol earlier this month. Grey’s Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo also shared multiple Tweets about the cause.
“All of us who have been fighting to stop this roundup have given it everything we’ve got and this is our 11th hour Hail Mary,” Heigl wrote in an Instagram post, urging her followers to email Psaki.
The Bureau of Land Management uses helicopters to herd the horses, which can lead to stampeding and life-threatening injuries. The BLM website says there are over 475 Onaqui horses in the area, which is well over the limit of 121-210 horses that they say is appropriate for that area. Approximately 296 horses will be removed from the Onaqui Herd Management Area, which is located in the Tooele and Juab counties of Utah.
Data from previous gatherings shows that some horses do get euthanized after suffering from fractures or lacerations during the herding process.
“When you take the helicopter after a horse that's been out on the range its whole life, that's just like taking a helicopter and chasing a five year old child,” Irby said.
According to the Bureau’s website, the Onaqui horses have been experiencing a decline in health due to a drought in the area. Gathering and removing a number of horses from the area would allow the Bureau to start effectively implementing birth and population control on the group. Activists believe that birth control via remote darting would be a more effective and humane method for controlling the wild horse population, but the BLM maintains that the Onaqui population has gotten too big to manage this way.
The BLM also claims that many of the Onaqui horses gathered will be available for adoption starting in October. But a recent report from The New York Times revealed that many horses adopted through the Bureau’s Adoption Incentive Program get sold to slaughterhouses once the adopters received their $1,000-a-head federal incentive.
The Bureau of Land Management has already started gathering the Onaqui horses as of Wednesday morning, with no known plans to halt. Though there are other breeds at risk of the same practice, Irby explained that they expected to be more successful in protecting the Onaqui horses since they are a popular breed and tourist attraction in Utah.
“They do not care about the voice of so many horse people and youth out there that just wanted to stop 475 horses from being harmed in the world,” Irby said. “It was a very easy, easy thing to do. It was probably the easiest ask we could ever make of the White House.”