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."
Source: The Gazette, by Dave Philipps
After months of false starts, state authorities have opened a formal criminal investigation into Tom Davis, a southern Colorado wild horse buyer who admitted to breaking state laws while shipping hundreds of federally protected wild horses to an unknown fate out of state.
Last week, the Conejos County Sheriff's Office opened the investigation at the request of state brand commissioner Chris Whitney, who said Davis, of La Jara, admitted to the commissioner that he broke brand laws. A ProPublica report published in The Gazette in September detailed how Davis a proponent of horse slaughter, purchased truckloads of protected wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management. Davis said he then shipped the horses to what he called 'good homes ' all over the country. None of the horses has been accounted for. Wild horse advocates believe they illegally went to slaughter. Davis denies this.
Colorado law requires a state brand inspection when livestock is sold or shipped more than 75 miles. Brand records show Davis received more than 1,700 horses from the BLM, but shipped only 765. None of the horses is in his possession, meaning almost 1,000 were shipped or sold without an inspection. Davis admitted as much to ProPublica in 2012, saying he did not want brand inspectors to know where the horses were going. When the reporter suggested that was illegal, Davis replied, 'Since when is anything in this country done legal?
He could not be reached for comment last week. Each violation of the brand law is misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. After the ProPublica report, state agencies dithered, unsure how to enforce the law. The brand commissioner thought it was the job of the district attorney in Alamosa. The district attorney said it was not. Nothing happened with the case until a Gazette inquiry in early April.
After being contacted by The Gazette, the district attorney, David Mahonee, referred the case to the Conejos County
Sheriff, where it was seemingly forgotten again. 'We don't have any open investigations, ' Undersheriff Chris Crown said in late
April. 'If Davis didn't get a brand inspection then you need to need to speak to the brand inspector.
Brand Commissioner Whitney, notified by The Gazette that there was no investigation, said last week he called the sheriff's office and the undersheriff assured him he would open an investigation. The undersheriff could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, the district attorney confirmed that the sheriff had opened an investigation. 'I can't say more than that, but I know they are working it, ' Mahonee said.
The federal government is also investigating Davis for allegedly selling wild horses to slaughter in violation of agreements he signed with the Bureau of Land Management. Repeated calls to the spokesman for the Interior Department's inspector general's office regarding the investigation were not returned.
Contact Dave Philipps: 636-0238
Source: ProPublica, by Dave Philipps
The Bureau of Land Management faced a crisis this spring. The agency protects and manages herds of wild horses that still roam the American West, rounding up thousands of them each year to kee populations stable.
But by March, government pens and pastures were nearly full. Efforts to find new storage space had fallen flat. So had most attempts to persuade members of the public to adopt horses. Without a way to relieve the pressure, the agency faced a gridlock that would invite lawsuits and potentially cause long-term damage to the range.
So the BLM did something it has done increasingly over the last few years. It turned to a little-known Colorado livestock hauler named Tom Davis who was willing to buy hundreds of horses at a time, sight unseen, for $10 a head.
The BLM has sold Davis at least 1,700 wild horses and burros since 2009, agency records show -- 70 percent of the animals purchased through its sale program. Like all buyers, Davis signs contracts promising that animals bought from the program will not be slaughtered and insists he finds them good homes.
But Davis is a longtime advocate of horse slaughter. By his own account, he has ducked Colorado law to move animals across state lines and will not say where they end up. He continues to buy wild horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, which are not protected by the same laws. And since 2010, he has been seeking investors for a slaughterhouse of his own.
"Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt," he said. "What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?"
Animal welfare advocates fear that horses bought by Davis are being sent to the killing floor. “The BLM says it protects wild horses,” said Laura Leigh, founder of the Nevada-based advocacy group Wild Horse Education, “but when they are selling to a guy like this you have to wonder.” BLM officials say they carefully screen buyers and are adamant that no wild horses ever go to slaughter.
“We don’t feel compelled to sell to anybody we don’t feel good about,” agency spokesman Tom Gorey said. “We want the horses to be protected. ”Sally Spencer, who runs the wild horse sales program, said the agency has had no indication of problems with Davis and it would be unfair for the BLM to look more closely at him based on the volume of his purchases.
"It is no good to just stir up rumors,” she said. “We have never heard of him not being able to find homes. So people are innocent until proven guilty in the United States. Some BLM employees say privately that wild horse program officials may not want to look too closely at Davis. The agency has more wild horses than it knows what to do with, they say, and Davis has become a relief valve for a federal program plagued by conflict and cost over-runs.
"They are under a lot of pressure in Washington to make numbers,” said a BLM corral manager who did not want his name used because he feared retribution from the agency’s national office. “Maybe that is what this is about. They probably don't want to look too careful at this guy."
So what happened to the wild horses Davis purchased from the BLM? The agency can’t say for sure. It does not hold onto the titles of wild horses acquired through its sale program as it does with horses that are adopted. Officials also have no process for following up to make sure buyers use animals as they claim they will in applications.
In the interview at the ranch, Davis said he had found most of the mustangs “good homes” on properties mostly in the southeastern states. Asked if he would provide records of these sales, he responded, “Ain’t no way in hell.”
Other people who find homes for rescue horses in the region say they rely heavily on advertising and web sites to connect with buyers. Davis does not appear to do so.
“I’ve never heard of him,” said David Hesse, who runs Mustang and Wild Horse Rescue of Georgia. “If he said he is finding homes for that many old, untamed mustangs, I’m skeptical. The market is deader than dead. I have trouble finding homes for even the ones that are saddle-broken. Wild ones? No way.”
On some sales applications, Davis has said he sells horses to graze on land used for oil and gas drilling in Texas, but oil industry experts contacted for this story said they had never heard of such a practice.
According to brand inspection documents required by Colorado when livestock is sold or shipped more than 75 miles, Davis and his wife say they have sent 765 animals with BLM wild horse brands to a sparsely populated stretch of arid brush country along the Mexico border in Kinney County, Texas. (The records do not give specific addresses where animals were sent, but identify small towns, such as Spofford, as their destination.)
It’s impossible to confirm that the horses actually arrived there or to know where they might have gone next, however, because Texas is one of the few Western states that do not require brand inspections when horses are moved or sold. Just south of Kinney County is Eagle Pass, a border town that isthe only crossing for horses going to slaughter in Mexico for hundreds of miles.
There have been no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. since 2007, when Congress barred funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture horse meat inspectors. Since then horse slaughter has been outsourced. A 2011 report by the General Accountability Office found the export of horses for slaughter to Mexico shot up 660 percent after the ban.
In Eagle Pass, as at other crossings, slaughter horses are checked by USDA veterinarians. A USDA spokeswoman refused to make veterinarians available for interviews, but confirmed that vets sometimes see wild horses bearing the BLM brand in slaughter export pens. Brand documents leave almost 1,000 of Davis’s wild horses unaccounted for. That means they should still be within 75 miles of his residence -- if he has complied with state law.
Asked if this was the case, Davis first said the horses were still on 160 acres of land he leases from the state of Colorado. Then he said some had been shipped out of state without brand inspections, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"Since when is anything in this country done legal?" Davis said in a phone interview.
Had BLM officials inquired further about Davis, they might have found reason to question his plans for wild horses.Davis is a vocal proponent of slaughtering wild horses in the holding system, which he considers a waste of resources. During the interview at his home, he said he would purchase far more horses if the BLM allowed him to resell them to so-called “kill buyers.”
“They are selling me mere hundreds now,” he said. “If they sold me 50,000, I guarantee I could do something with them. I would go to Canada. I would go to Mexico.” Davis has close friends who export horses for slaughter, including Dennis
Chavez, whose family runs one of largest export businesses in the southwest. In 1984, when Davis authored “Be Tough or be Gone", a self-published book about a horseback ride he took from Mexico to Alaska, he dedicated it to Chavez’s father, Sonny Chavez.
Also, despite the obstacles that impede U.S. horse slaughterhouses, Davis said he has been trying to drum up investors to open a slaughter plant in Colorado. He said he had approached pet food companies to buy the meat and asked Ken
Salazar’s brother, John Salazar, who is the head of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, to help him get a grant to finance the business. John Salazar declined to help Davis, and so far the slaughterhouse venture has not gone forward.
“How can the BLM say with a straight face they are protecting wild horses when they deal with this guy?” said Leigh, of Wild Horse Education. Animal welfare advocates have raised concerns about Davis’ purchases, but they say federal officials paid little attention.
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