Is the U.S. Government Complicit in the Killing of Over a Thousand Wild Horses?


National Journal / By Billy House / January 29, 2013 

A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses in Washoe County, Nev., July 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)

A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses in Washoe County, Nev., July 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is urging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to disclose whether as many as 1,700 federally protected wild horses now unaccounted for were sold to a middleman who illegally transported them to Mexico for slaughter.

Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., in a letter to Salazar being circulated this week to other lawmakers to cosign, write they are troubled by the department’s lack of response to “legitimate concerns” that the government may have sold these captured mustangs to a “kill buyer,” who then shipped them to a slaughterhouse.

“It is our understanding that this investigation is ongoing,” the letter states, referring to an inquiry by Interior’s Office of Inspector General. But it also says that a number of animal-welfare organizations and worried citizens have been raising concerns, and that “as of today, these citizens haven’t heard from you.”

Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations, said the two lawmakers want Salazar to provide answers before he leaves the Obama administration. Salazar has said he will leave his Cabinet position at the end of March.

Tom Gorey, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said Monday that the inspector general has not yet released its findings and that “we don’t know when [the investigation] is going to be done.” But he said it would be wrong to suggest that the bureau sold any of these horses realizing they might be sent to slaughterhouses.

In their letter to Salazar, Grijalva and Whitfield point to a report last September by ProPublica that the bureau sold the more than 1,700 captured mustangs at about $10 a head to Tom Davis, described as a Colorado livestock hauler and a proponent of the horse-meat industry. Salazar is from Colorado. Some published reports say Davis claims to know Salazar and claims to have hauled cattle for him for years. But that is contested. An Interior Department spokeswoman says the secretary has no recollection of Davis, including any business dealings with him.

“As you are aware, the ProPublica revelations have provoked a substantial public outcry,” the two lawmakers wrote. The letter notes, for example, that in November, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign delivered 25,130 signatures to the Interior Department “from concerned citizens around the country.”

The Bureau of Land Management is the federal agency in charge of overseeing the approximately 31,500 wild horses and 5,800 wild burros roaming federally managed range land in 10 Western states. According to the bureau’s website, these horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, “the agency must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control herd sizes,” the bureau says.

Since 2004, the bureau has had the legal right under an amendment passed by Congress to sell some of these wild horses.

But Gorey said that, despite the technically unrestricted sales authority of that legislation, known as the Burns Amendment, the bureau has not knowingly sold any of these horses or burros for slaughter and would not do so. The bills of sale are required to contain an explanation by the buyer of what they intend to do with the animals, including a promise that animals bought will not be slaughtered.

And in early January, in response to the Davis investigation, the BLM issued new policy conditions and restrictions regarding such sales, in what it described as another step forward in improvement in ensuring the health and humane treatment of wild horses and burros. The new policies included stipulations that no more than four wild horses or wild burros may be bought by an individual or group within a six-month period from the BLM without prior approval of the Bureau’s Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning — and that purchasers must describe where they intend to keep the animals for the first six months following the sale.

Still, no public explanation has surfaced as to what, exactly, happened to the more than 1,700 horses purchased by Davis since 2009–nearly 70 percent of all the horses sold under the program. And animal welfare activists are worried that they wound up on the killing floor.

“We respectfully ask you to give a written response within the next ten days,” Grijalva and Whitfield wrote.


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Suzanne Dunham


    January 30, 2013
  • janwindsong

    Thank you for posting this. I am glad to see our concerns are being followed up. I want a precise answer. I am sure our high tech FBI can findout exactly where all those horses ended up and I want to know.

    January 30, 2013
  • I left a comment after the article.
    I am so proud of my Congressman, Ed Whitfield. He and Raul Grijalva are my heroes.

    January 30, 2013
  • Arlene

    Thank God for Congressman Raul Grijalva and Rd Whitfield, they are my Heroes also Barbara !!!!!!!

    January 30, 2013
  • Jeanne H

    Agree with Arlene and Barbara!! That’s why I keep signing grassroot petitions on FB to have Rep Grijalva appointed as the NEW Secretary of the Interior!! He has continued to support the Wild Horse Advocates the last two years and be at the front of the pack when it comes to asking for answers from Salazar! Can only hope all the petitions and signatures get to the President’s desk to show him that Grijalva is the PEOPLE’S CHOICE for this position!

    January 30, 2013
  • Arlene

    Congressman Raul Grijalva is the only man for this position, he has always been a Champion for the horses, he understands the utmost reality that the horse is and has always been so important , the so American and so needed , his beauty unparalleled his importance for all wildlife, his importance for us, he is the Balance ,,,,,,,,undisputed …..he is a natural healer no pills with side effect ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Raul Grijalva understands all of this , there is no other choice………….. Get on that Presidents comment line 202-456-1111 flood the President with calls demanding he appoint Raul Grijalva, if Raul Grijalva would have been appointed our Mustangs and Horses would not have suffered and been illegally Murdered and maimed in the name of GREED…We must restore the Balance !!!!!!!!

    January 30, 2013
  • Barbara Leonard

    Thank you for keeping this story up front in the news. And, yes, most definitely, we must have Rep. Raul Grijalva appointed the next head of DOI. But before Sleezy Salazar leaves office, HE MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THIS AND FOR HIS BLM CONTRACTOR, JIM REEVES OF SPUR LIVESTOCK, FOR REEVES SELLING OVER 70 WILD HORSES TO ANOTHER KNOWN KILL BUYER, JOE SIMON. Jail would be a too kind penalty for this abomination.

    January 30, 2013
  • Thank you Arlene for your comment! I rarely agree with everything someone says!!! Go Grijalva. I’m with him all the way. Thanks for the phone #

    January 30, 2013
  • Becky

    What is happening?! Our beautiful animals of natures plains and prairies possibly being slaughtered? Too sick to think about. I will be calling.

    January 31, 2013
  • Jackie

    Becky, sadly there is no ‘maybe’ about it.

    January 31, 2013

    70k of Americas wild horses and burros have been made homeless and stockpiled by the BLM These wild animals have been wasting away in holding facilities since the round ups began in 2008. The BLM is removing them now as I type.
    Keep believing we can create new laws that protect the wild horses and burros again since the old law from 1971 wild horse protection act does nothing for the horses today. Believe and Visulize our wild horses and burros running free in the future where they belong and managed by the horse lovers of America. THE POWER OF BELIEVING WE CAN MAKE THIS HAPPEN WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. DON’T EVER FORGET THE WILD HORSES BELONG TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

    January 31, 2013
  • pepper

    How do we enlist well known persons on behalf of stopping the slaughter and changing policy at BLM? People known to love hourses like Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, Wm Shatner, Linda Evans, Robert Redford, etc.

    February 6, 2013