U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Colorado newspaper denied access to cover horse roundup

Incident Details

Date of Incident
April 24, 2019

Denial of Access

Government agency or public official involved
Type of denial
Government event
REUTERS File/Jim Urquhart

Wild horses run in Utah as they are gathered by the Bureau of Land Management in 2010. Unlike this roundup and others, Mesa Verde National Park has denied access to press seeking to cover an upcoming Colorado roundup.

— REUTERS File/Jim Urquhart
April 24, 2019

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado denied the press access to cover a horse roundup and removal, a process that in the past has been open to the media.

Colorado-based newspaper The Cortez Journal sought access to cover the process, but Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer sent an email to The Journal on April 24 that banned media coverage of the roundup. Spencer stated that representatives of the horse roundup did not want any distractions present that “would negatively affect the behavior of the horses.”

According to The Journal, Tim McGaffic, a horse wrangler who will be part of the roundup, said the paper’s proposal to have a reporter and photographer document and observe the process “seems more or less fine.”

Despite this, Spencer’s email forbade public or media access altogether, on the grounds that the groups involved with the roundup were “adamant” that only those directly involved should be present.

Attorney Steve Zansberg represented The Journal in an April 26 letter to Spencer seeking access, emphasizing that the public access to government activities protected under the First Amendment includes operations on federal land — like horse roundups.

“Accommodating a single reporter and pool photographer for a limited period of time at a considerable distance from the wrangler-horse interactions is a constitutionally appropriate way to protect the public’s First Amendment right to access a National Park and to engage in protected newsgathering activities there,” the letter reads. “It is certainly a far ‘less restrictive means’ than a blanket ban on coverage of this federal operation.”

Zansberg also noted that other government agencies have allowed the press to cover roundups of horses on federal property.

The Journal reporter Jim Mimiaga told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker on May 1 that the roundup has been approved, but has not yet taken place. Mimiaga said he was not aware of other news outlets that sought to cover the roundup.

Zansberg said that no substantive response from Spencer had been received as of May 1, and if the request continued to be denied, he would confer with the paper about next steps.

The National Park Service did not immediately reply to request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].