By Jordan Steffan, The Denver Post
Wild-horse advocates are calling on the Bureau of Land Management to suspend its annual roundup following an investigative report suggesting that some animals are being sold to slaughterhouses.
A ProPublica investigative report, published Sunday in The Denver Post, revealed that Colorado livestock hauler — and longtime horse-slaughter advocate — Tom Davis has purchased at least 1,700 wild horses and burros since 2009. While Davis signed the required contract promising the animals will not be slaughtered, he also admitted to maneuvering around Colorado law to move the animals across state lines.
Since 2010, he has sought investors for his own slaughterhouse, according to the ProPublica report.
On Monday, the same day federal officials launched a roundup of thousands of horses in six states, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign called on the BLM to halt the program until it can ensure that no more animals will be sold for slaughter.
"We're hoping this brings attention to the broken federal wild-horse management program," said Suzanne Roy, director of the coalition, which includes more than 50 advocacy organizations. "They are selling horses to known individuals that operate horse-slaughter businesses."
A number of horses gathered during roundups are put up for adoption. A 1971 law declared wild horses as "living symbols" of history and made it illegal to kill the horses on most federal land, the ProPublica report said. In 2004, Congress passed a law allowing thousands of wild horses to be sold for $10 a head. The BLM later installed a condition requiring buyers to sign the no-slaughter contract. Violating the contract is a felony.
The roundup, which will run through February in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, is expected to corral 3,500 wild horses and burros, officials told The Associated Press. Roy is calling on the public to reach out to lawmakers and demand federal funds be withheld until stricter rules are passed.
"These animals are protected by an act of Congress," Roy said. "They need to be treated as the national icons they are. The change is only going to come when an army of citizens, willing to speak up for the mustangs, grow."
While there are no roundups currently taking place in Colorado, the controversial practice has a long history in the state. Officials estimate the wild- horse population to be anywhere from 600 to 1,000.
Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation, called the BLM's management of wild-horse herds in Colorado "shabby," and said the dwindling horse population is greatly misunderstood.
"The safest place for a wild horse is in the wild," Kathrens said. "The fate of horses, once they are captured, is murky based on some of the newest revelations of what's going on."
But BLM spokesman Steven Hall called the management of Colorado's mustang population one of the agency's greatest successes.
Colorado's handful of wild- horse herds range in size from 40 to nearly 400 animals, Hall said. They are located on ranges across the state, near areas such as Craig, Meeker and Grand Junction.
"Wild horses do very, very well on public lands because they don't really have natural predators," Hall said. "The only check on populations is the gathering process."
The BLM typically gathers horses from Colorado herds once every three to five years. But finding the perfect number of how many horses should remain, and what constitutes a healthy range for them, will likely always be disputed, Hall said.
"The overarching point is we are mandated by federal law to protect wild horses, but we are also required to keep those range lands healthy," Hall said. "The whole point of how we manage wild horses is to try and meet that balance."