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