America's wild horses and burros have continued to be an issue of intense interest to the American public. The year 2013 was no exception. Issues of range management, slaughter, abuse during roundups and in facilities continued to surface.
The year began with legal actions filed against the BLM roundup at the Owyhee Complex. The suit alleges that wild horses are being illegally removed from the range.
In addition the suit illustrated horses run into barbed wire, babies run to exhaustion and intensive use of an electric cattle prod. On January 10th the court issued strong language against the abuse. Several motions were filed in this case over the course of the year and the suit is expected to go to hearing.
Early in 2013 the Department of Interior (DOI), that umbrellas several agencies including the BLM, saw former Secretary Ken Salazar step down. In 2012 an investigation by Dave Philipps (for ProPublica) uncovered 1700 wild horses sold by the BLM to a single kill buyer that has apparent ties to Salazar. During a press conference Salazar actually threatened journalist Philipps with a "punch in the face" for publicly asking him about the sales of wild horses.
Salazar's replacement Sally Jewell, former REI executive, immediately began to shuffle questions on the program over to the expected National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report. The study had been commissioned nearly two years prior at an estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars. The report was issued in June and gave the program a failing grade pointing to a "lack of data" that supports and decision making. Since the report was issued no reforms in failing policy have surfaced.
The BLM's contentious relationship with the press continued as legal actions carried by the advocacy group Wild Horse Education against press restrictions battled in and out of the courtroom all year. The litigation was joined through Amicus briefs by fifteen news organizations including: The Reporters Committee for a Free Press, NPR, Seattle Times and others. In December the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals placed this case into mandatory mediation for 60 days with a report to be filed with the court if no agreements can be reached in this case that has spanned over three years in the legal system.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro program was under scrutiny as the government shutdown momentarily halted roundups. Networks such as NBC, the Travel Channel and NPR ran major stories on wild horses. Actions by the BLM received hundreds of thousands of comments from a dissatisfied public.
As 2013 drew to a close serious public land management issues are rising that may very well make a bleak picture even more fragile. Sage Grouse management plans are being formulated that could likely impact wild horses and burros in an extremely negative fashion as private livestock interests push to protect government subsidized public land grazing. The Grazing Improvement Act (if passed) will allow livestock producers to skirt environmental review for decades. And the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) organizes legal action supported by the Cattleman's Association against wild horses.
Horse slaughter is standing on the edge of coming back to American soil. Regardless of the simple fact that horse meat is not a safe food source slaughter plants are pushing to process American horses. Many advocates for wild horses have feared for years that a failure to change policy and the continual stockpiling of American horses in government facilities (more than twice the number of wild horses sit in facilities than exist wild on the range) is a sign that wild horses are in direct line for slaughter. Many appointed members of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board are openly in support of horse slaughter.
2014 promises to be an important year for the survival of wild horses and burros on America's public land. The Chinese call 2014 the "year of the horse." It may very well be that the fate of America's symbol of Freedom will be decided this year. Will we reform this program and begin to protect wild horses and burros and the asset they are to our American soul? Or will we turn our back and choose to put money into the pockets of a select few and in a betrayal to the contribution these horses and burros made to not only the building of our country, but our own identity as "strong, intelligent, untamable" Americans?
The group WildHorseEducation.org created a "Year in Review 2013." They wrote a timeline and crated a "year in review video" of their work to protect wild horses and burros.
To read the entire timeline, and to watch the video, Click Here.
Source: The Examiner, by Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education
The Bureau of Land Management wants to be prepared if U.S. horse slaughterhouses open for business, a key BLM staffer said. "They may never open. They may open. But if they do open, we are ready," said Joan Guilfoyle, BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program division chief.
Speaking at a three-day meeting this week of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in suburban Washington, D.C., Guilfoyle said her team has drafted letters to send if slaughterhouses reopen to warn owners that BLM-protected horses cannot be processed. In the past, she said, plant owners had agreed to work with BLM if there were questions about a horse's status.
She would reinstate such agreements, she said, if new slaughter plants came online. For the first time since 2007, horse slaughter plants are poised to reopen domestically. Congress had banned funding for Department of Agriculture inspections of horse slaughter plants, effectively shutting down the industry, but the ban was eliminated a year ago. A few slaughter plants had aimed to start operations this summer, but a lawsuit from animal welfare groups stalled their plans.
Meanwhile, Guilfoyle said that the investigation of Tom Davis, who was accused of taking BLM-acquired horses to slaughterhouses across the border, was taken over by the agency's Office of the Inspector General.
"They told us then that we could get a report back in two weeks, or we could get a report back from them in two years," she said.
The advisory board was meeting to respond to a sweeping report this summer from the National Academy of Sciences that found that BLM was underestimating herd sizes -- and exacerbating the problem by removing horses.
The board highlighted other recommendations from the report: that BLM develop a standard for how frequently to conduct surveys of the population and that the bureau should make that data more available to the public. It also found that BLM's method for keeping tabs on its wild horse population isn't in line with current science.
"As we have found in the report itself, I think we have to agree that there are some gaps there," said Boyd Spratling, a veterinarian and co-chairman of the advisory board.
Researchers and board members alike acknowledged budgetary constraints the bureau faces as it works to control its wild horses. Guilfoyle said BLM has more than 50,000 horses in holding at eco-sanctuaries, short-term corrals and long-term pastures. And she said that 65 percent of the bureau's current wild horse budget goes toward caring and feeding for the
Source: Greenwire by Whitney Blair Wyckoff
Source: The Gazette, by Dave Philipps
A Colorado man who repeatedly broke state brand laws by shipping hundreds of federally protected wild horses out of state will not be prosecuted for violating state brand inspection rules because of time limits on prosecution, authorities said this month.
A ProPublica investigation published by The Gazette in September showed Tom Davis of La Jara purchased more than 1,700 wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management from 2008 to 2012 and shipped them to fates unknown. Davis, a proponent of horse slaughter, said he sent the horses to what he called "good homes" all over the country. Wild horse advocates believe they illegally went to slaughter. None of the horses have been accounted for.
In October, the BLM began investigating whether Davis broke federal law by knowingly sending horses to slaughter. That investigation is ongoing. Soon after, Colorado started its investigation of whether Davis violated state brand inspection laws.
Brand laws, which date to the cattle rustling days, are designed to guard against people selling stolen livestock. Colorado law requires a state brand inspection when livestock is sold, moved out of state, or shipped in state more than 75 miles.
Brand records show Davis received more than 1,700 horses from the BLM, but got inspections to ship only 765. None of the horses are in his possession, meaning almost 1,000 were moved without an inspection. Davis admitted as much to ProPublica, saying he did not want brand inspectors to know where the horses were going. When a reporter suggested that was illegal,
Davis replied, "Since when is anything in this country done legal?"
The whereabouts of all 1,700 horses is unknown.
Each violation of the brand law is misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Sheriff's deputies in Conejos County, a rural corner of the San Luis Valley where the Davis family has deep ties, conducted an investigation starting in late April. Deputies found nothing indicating Davis broke the law, said 12th District Attorney David Mahonee in a press release. Mahonee said in the last 18 months, the period allowed by Colorado's statute of limitations for misdemeanors, "There is no evidence that the rancher shipped horses out of Colorado without first having them inspected by the brand inspector and therefore no charges will be filed."
"It's pretty clear he was breaking the law," said Colorado state brand inspector Chris Whitney. "But not within the allowable timeframe." State and federal documents obtained by ProPublica suggest there is evidence Davis broke the law within the specified time. BLM sales receipts show the agency sold Davis at least 239 mustangs in the last 18 months. BLM records show
the animals were shipped to Davis at his house in Colorado, according to the BLM. State brand inspection records during that time show Davis had only 43 animals inspected. That means the rest are either still in his possession or he violated brand inspection laws. Only a half dozen horses were on his property during a visit by a reporter in May 2012
"It's that simple. Either show us the inspections or show us the horses. If you can't, he should be arrested," said Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a national advocacy organization. "We are disappointed the authorities seem to be turning a blind eye."
The Department of Interior Inspector General's Office took over the BLM investigation of Davis in October. The office did not respond to requests for an update on the investigation, but an unnamed source said its findings could be completed this summer. Meanwhile, wild horse lovers are outraged that the man they say slaughtered truckloads of protected mustangs has yet to be punished.
"The bottom line is that there are 1,700 missing horses," said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign "The sheriff has turned his back. The BLM is dragging its feet. And we still don't know what happened."