Newspaper column: BLM rule change doesn’t signal wild horse slaughter

Wild horses being affected by drought. (AP pix)

Wild horse advocates are apoplectic over a change in rules for selling off wild horses recently announced by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management, saying it could lead to the animals being sold for slaughter.

In 2013, after learning that Colorado rancher Tom Davis, a friend and neighbor of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had over a three-year period sold 1,800 wild horses he had purchased from the BLM for slaughter in Mexico, the BLM instituted a rule that no one could purchase more than four wild horses in a six-month period without approval of the agency’s deputy assistant director of resource and planning.

In May, the BLM issued new guidelines saying up to 25 wild horses could be sold without prior approval up the chain of command.

“The federal government is about to resume selling America’s cherished wild horses and burros by the truckload, sending potentially thousands of mustangs into the slaughter pipeline against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans,” fulminated Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) in a press release this past week. “This Administration appears hellbent on destroying America’s iconic wild horse and burro herds, and this is the latest step on that path to destruction.”

Pay no heed to the fact the BLM spends 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros on warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000. Nor to the fact that earlier this year BLM officials desperate to rid themselves of the expense of feeding all those “wild” animals were contemplating offering $1,000 incentives to anyone willing to take some off their hands.

An Interior Department inspector general report in 2015 found that Davis over three years bought truckloads of 35 horses at a time for $10 each and sold them to others who took them to Mexico for slaughter. Davis made up to $3,000 profit per truckload. The case was referred to federal and local prosecutors who declined to prosecute, criminally or civilly.

Davis told inspectors that BLM officials had to know so many horses were going to slaughter.

Congress for years has effectively banned the slaughter of horses for meat in the U.S. by denying funding for health inspectors.

The new BLM guidelines for selling wild horses say untrained animals may be sold for as little as $25 apiece, while horses trained to halter or saddle must fetch $125. Purchasers also must provide adequate feed, care and a facility, such as a corral, barn or stall.

Applicants also must swear that the animals are not intended for “slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products …”

Though the limiting of sales to only four horses at a time appears to have not been financially conducive to either buyers or taxpayers, and despite the lessons learned from the Davis probe, AWHC’s Roy forecasts doom and gloom will result from the change in rules.

“When you’re selling horses by the truckload for $25 apiece, it provides a big incentive for slaughter,” Roy was quoted in her press release. “Since riding a horse to his first day of work, Interior Secretary Zinke has galloped down a deadly path for America’s wild horse and burro herds – from asking Congress for permission to slaughter tens of thousands of these cherished animals to promoting the mass surgical sterilization of mustangs and burros on the range. Zinke is pushing the livestock industry agenda to rid our public lands of wild horses and trampling on the wishes of American citizens in the process.”

In a recent interview, Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Dean Heller said he has spoken with Zinke and a middle ground on this matter is being sought.

“Zinke assured me he’s looking at this issue. They’re looking at a number of different avenues how they can cull these herds without, frankly, having to remove some of these horses from the range, but they do believe they can put together a sterilization program and something that in five to 10 years can reduce the size of these herds,” Heller said. “There is a discussion out there. These discussions are being had — looking for a reasonable, reasonable answers to this, and trying to come up with a program or a process that both sides can agree on.”

When it comes to the taxpayers being on the hook to try to preserve non-native species in perpetuity, all means should be stoically explored.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

They don’t shoot wild horses, do they?

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected appeals by several horse-hugger groups intent on stopping the Bureau of Land Management from rounding up wild horses and burros.

Judge Johnnie Rawlinson of Las Vegas dissented, but it was not a dissent the horse-huggers should hang their hats on.

Wild horses (BLM photo)

Rather, her dissent could be cited by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, who have sued the Department of Interior, the BLM, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and others for failing to follow the requirements of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

In the fall of 2010 the BLM rounded up 1,800 wild horses and burros from the 800,000-acre Twin Peaks herd management area on the Nevada-California border, because there were three times as many horses and burros as the range could sustain. After the gathering, fewer than 1,000 horses and burros remained.

The groups In Defense of Animals and Dreamcatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary and others sued to try to stop the gather and continued the suit afterward claiming the BLM failed to follow the law to protect the animals from “capture, branding, harassment or

Two judges ruled the BLM action was within the scope of the law.

But Rawlinson wrote in her dissent that the BLM failed to follow the letter of the law as clearly written:

Section 1333(b) authorizes the Secretary to remove only
“excess animals.” If an overpopulation of wild horses exists,
the Act mandates that any removal take place “in the
following order and priority, until all excess animals have
been removed”:

(A) The Secretary shall order old, sick, or
lame animals to be destroyed in the most
humane manner possible;

(B) The Secretary shall cause such
number of additional excess wild freeroaming
horses and burros to be humanely
captured and removed [for adoption] . . . ; and

(C) The Secretary shall cause additional
excess wild free-roaming horses and burros
for which an adoption demand . . . does not
exist to be destroyed in the most humane and
cost efficient manner possible

The Act couldn’t be clearer. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, the BLM is failing to destroy excess animals as the law dictates and is warehousing them in corrals and on private pastures in the mid-West.

There are 40,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, which exceeds by nearly 14,000 the number the range can handle. Off the range, there are more than 48,000 animals in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures, which the taxpayers are feeding for their average 25-year life span.

The Nevada federal suit brought by the counties and the farm agency argues the BLM is starving the very animals the law was intended to protect.

“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” the suit says.

The federal agencies often claim that their ability to properly maintain the population of wild horses and burros is hampered by a lack of funds. The suit calls this a “self-inflicted handicap,” because half of the BLM’s horse and burro budget is going to warehousing those 48,000 animals.

At the Twin Peaks roundup, the BLM failed to first destroy all the “old, sick, or lame animals.” In fact only two were euthanized due to leg injuries, according to BLM records. Nor has there been any mention as to whether any of the unadoptable animals were “destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

Oddly enough an attorney for the horse-hugger groups told Courthouse News, that she agreed with Rawlinson.

“Aside from Judge Rawlinson’s dissent, the court refused to recognize any constraint on the BLM’s management of wild horses,” the attorney said in an email. “We had hoped that we would get a panel that would actually look past the BLM’s hyperbolic rhetoric and recognize that Congress clearly intended to protect wild horses and burros in their wild state, and in doing so imposed constraints on when and how the agencies could manage them.”

But instead of humanely destroying the feral horses and burros as the law dictates, the BLM states proudly on its website:

The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and it has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter.  Consequently, as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report issued in October 2008, the BLM is not in compliance with a December 2004 amendment (the so-called Burns Amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) that directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros “without limitation” to any willing buyer.”

They admit they are violating the law.