BLM reins in wild horse sales

By: Dave Philipps
January 4, 2013
photo - Under new rules buyers like Tom Davis will no longer be able to purchase hundreds of wild horses at a time. Photo by Dave Philipps
Under new rules buyers like Tom Davis will no longer be able to purchase hundreds of wild horses at a time. Photo by Dave Philipps 

The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday it has severely restricted sales of protected wild horses to guard against mustangs being resold to slaughter.

The changes come in response to an investigation by the non-profit news organization ProPublica, published in The Gazette in September, that questioned the fate of animals sold to a San Luis Valley livestock hauler named Tom Davis who bought more than 1,700 horses through the program since 2009.

Davis maintains he found the animals what he called “good homes,” but wild-horse advocates fear they ended up in Mexican slaughterhouses.

An estimated 35,000 wild horses roam public lands in the West. Another 47,000 live in BLM corrals and pastures. The BLM has been unable to find enough people to adopt the wild horses in its care and has used its sale program to unload thousands of unwanted horses for $10 each.

Buyers of wild horses are not allowed to resell them to slaughter, but for years the BLM did little to check that buyers kept their word.

Now, buyers will be allowed to purchase only four horses every six months unless they have special approval from top BLM officials. Buyers also must tell the BLM where agents can find the horses for six months after the purchase.

“Today’s announcement marks another step forward in our agency’s steady improvement in ensuring the health and humane treatment of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range,” said BLM Acting Director Mike Pool.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar outlined the reforms in December during an exclusive interview with The Gazette.

The new policy also requires that buyers ship horses from BLM corals themselves. In the past the BLM would truck more than 20 horses at no charge. Davis was able to repeatedly pay about $330 per load of horses the BLM spent more than $4,000 to ship.

The ProPublica report prompted the BLM to open an investigation into Davis in June.

The investigation was taken over by the Interior Department’s independent Inspector General in October when it became clear that people in the agency could come under scrutiny too. In December The Gazette was contacted by a man who said he is an agent with “a federal law enforcement agency” who said the agency, which he would not identify, was also investigating possible wrong-doing by Davis. As a result of the report, Davis is also under investigation by the district attorney in Alamosa for breaking Colorado brand inspectionlaws.

Wild horse welfare advocates  on Friday lauded the reforms.

“Some of these things seem like no brainers, and it doesn’t address fundamental issues,” said Laura Leigh, founder of Nevada-based Wild Horse Education. “But this is the beginning of change. If we can show we can make positive changes that make sense, we can move on from there.”

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