Buyers restricted to 4 wild horses at a time

A report that a livestock contractor purchased 1,700 wild horses and may have sold most of them to Mexican slaughterhouses has wild-horse advocates calling for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s dismissal. Above, wild horses run free on the Bookcliffs near Mount Garfield.

If you’re looking to acquire wild horses or burros from the federal government, you won’t be able to obtain any more than four in a six-month period. The Bureau of Land Management officially issued a new policy Friday regarding the sale of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal land.

The announcement of the new policies came about four months after the public learned that one southern Colorado livestock contractor had purchased more than 1,700 wild horses from the BLM over the past three years. That’s roughly 70 percent of all the wild horses sold during that time.

Buyer Tom Davis reportedly shipped the horses all over the country, sometimes without obtaining the required brand inspection from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Although Davis maintained he found good homes for all of the animals, wild-horse advocates fear he shipped most of them to slaughterhouses in Mexico, in violation of federal policy.

The Alamosa district attorney is reportedly investigating Davis’ movement of horses without obtaining brand inspections, and the Inspector General for the Department of Interior has initiated an investigation into how the BLM allowed so many wild horses to be sold to one individual without any means of tracking where the horses were going.

Neither agency responded to requests from The Daily Sentinel for information about the status of those investigations.

Many of the wild-horse advocates have also demanded the resignation or firing of Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar over this and other problems related to the BLM’s management of wild-horse herds in the West. They have been circulating a petition to send to the White House, demanding Salazar’s dismissal.

Although Salazar hasn’t publicly stated yet whether he plans to remain in his Cabinet post during President Barack Obama’s second term, it’s clear the wild-horse problem has been frustrating for him, one he has tried to tackle, with little success.

The main issue is that the BLM now has more rounded-up horses in corrals and federally owned pasture — more than 42,000 — than it actually oversees on ranges throughout the West, including the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range northeast of Grand Junction. Providing health care and feeding those captured horses costs the agency many millions of dollars each year.

Salazar has sought ways to move more of those captured horses to private sanctuaries, and the BLM has been exploring means to prevent wild horse overpopulation on overgrazed ranges, such as greater use of sterilization. But it still rounds up horses when ranges get over-crowded, and many roundups provoke lawsuits and protests from advocacy groups.

Some wild-horse advocates accuse the BLM of having an unspoken policy of trying to eliminate all wild horses from federal lands, although the agency’s management of wild horses and burros since a 1971 law passed that required the protection of the horses shows a concerted effort to protect most wild-horse populations amid a confusing legal and legislative maze.

The Tom Davis case added another sore point to an already difficult issue, especially since Davis is from the same area in southern Colorado where Salazar grew up. Salazar’s family still has a ranch in the San Luis Valley.

Last month, in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, Salazar expressed his frustration with the wild-horse situation in general and the Davis case in particular. He said at that time that new regulations would be coming to prevent future problems like that related to Davis and to prevent wild horses that are sold from ending up in slaughterhouses across the border.

Those policies, released Friday on the BLM’s website, say:

■ “No more than four wild horses and/or wild burros may be bought by an individual or group within a six-month period from the BLM without prior approval of the Bureaus’s Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning.”

■ “When buying wild horses and/or wild burros, purchasers must describe where they intend to keep the animals for the first six months after the sale. Without prior approval from the Assistant Director, the BLM will not sell more than four animals destined for a single location in this six-month period.”

■ “Buyers must provide transportation for the purchased animal from the BLM’s short-term holding corrals or other locations to its new homes.”

■ “The BLM will inspect trailers and reserves the right to refuse loading if the trailer does not ensure the safety and humane transport of the animal.”

The new policy doesn’t include some of the other provisions that Salazar discussed in December, including stricter language in sales contracts to make it clear that buyers can face federal prosecution if they misrepresent anything about the purchase or if they indirectly send horses to slaughterhouses by selling them to middlemen.

Those provisions may still be coming, however. The BLM’s announcement Friday said the new policy, effective immediately, will remain in effect “until the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program publishes additional guidance on wild horse and burro sales.”


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