Advocates decry BLM's wild horse roundups at meeting in SLC
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Multiple wild horse advocate groups called on the Bureau of Land Management to stop rounding up wild horse and burros, a practice they say leads to warehousing thousands of animals in abysmal conditions and the slaughter of others for human consumption.
The groups voiced their concerns Monday at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, where members of the national Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board convened for a 1½-day meeting.
The nine-member citizen's board, which includes a representative from Utah, is meeting to review issues pertinent to the program and to make recommendations to the BLM for management of the program, which oversees wild horse and burro populations in 10 Western states.
"Instead of finding ways to manage them on the land," the groups say the BLM is now stuck in the "syndrome" of stockpiling wild horses in holding pens or pastures, where their numbers at 47,000 eclipse the animals that roam wild — 38,500 by the BLM's own estimates.
Such a practice has led to a fiscal disaster, said R.T. Fitch, president of the Wild Horse Freedom Foundation, enticing the federal agency to turn a blind eye to "kill buyers" who purchase hundreds of animals for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.
"They need to stop selling horses sight unseen by the truckload," said Simone Netherlands, managing director of Respect4Horses.
The BLM officially acknowledged Monday that an investigation is being done by the U.S. Department of Interior's inspector general after allegations surfaced that a Colorado horseman had purchased more than 1,700 wild horses from the BLM over a five-year period.
The horseman admits to being a slaughter proponent but signed contracts with the agency agreeing that none of the animals would meet that fate.
Ed Roberson, assistant director of the BLM, said sales to the horseman were immediately stopped once allegations surfaced. While advocates say such large bulk purchases of animals absent any inspection should arouse suspicion, Roberson said the practice isn't unusual.
In this case, the buyer said he intended the animals be used in movie shoots or to keep rangeland grasses short in oil field productions areas.
Netherlands scoffed at the explanations and said the BLM is "funding unspeakable cruelty" so wild horses can go from an idyllic existence on public lands to a "dinner plate."
The last U.S. slaughterhouse for horse meat intended for human consumption shut down in 2007 when the federal meat inspection program for that purpose was defunded.
Lack of such plants has fueled a lucrative market in Canada and Mexico, where advocates estimate horses are shipped by the thousands.
The BLM says it has a strict policy against selling to "kill buyers." Last year, the federal agency intercepted dozens of horses outside of Price they say were destined for sale in Mexico.
Groups are ramping up their calls for an end to BLM roundups because the agency is on an accelerated schedule to remove horses from Western lands due to the drought.
While Utah BLM managers had been contemplating a pair of roundups in Tooele County due to wildfire and poor range conditions, those roundups have been canceled because of more severe conditions in neighboring Nevada, said Gus Warr, BLM's wild horse and burro director in Utah.
Warr said as dry and harsh as Utah's rangelands may be, they are lush compared with Nevada's.
"I've been involved in this program for 24 years, and I have never seen conditions this degraded," he said.