By Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov.com
An agency of the federal government was taken to task for shirking its responsibility to protect the lives of nearly 1,800 wild horses in the course of selling them to a private party. The agency’s failure to abide by its own policies allegedly resulted in the slaughter of the animals.
A Colorado rancher bought the horses on the cheap from the federal government over a four-year period, assuring officials that they would be sold to those who wanted to keep them. Instead, according to an investigation (pdf), the horses were for slaughter.
Tom Davis of La Jara purchased 1,794 horses for $10 apiece through a program run by theDepartment of the Interior, with the understanding that he would not sell them to a slaughterhouse. Davis did just that, however, selling them for about $100 each to businesses that sent them across the border to Mexico where he knew they would be killed for their meat, according to the report. In fact, the government continued to sell horses to Davis despite questions about where all the mustangs were going.
Animal welfare groups, wild horse activists and officials with the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program have long had suspicions about Davis. The program’s Sally Spencer said in 2012 that the number of horses purchased by Davis did not warrant a closer look, according to RT. “It is no good to just stir up rumors,” she told Pro Publica.
"[Sally Spencer] still works at the BLM,” Deniz Bolbol of the American Wild Horses Preservation Campaign told RT. “She still works on the Wild Horse and Burro Program. She got to keep all her bonus checks that she got for selling more horses because there’s a culture at the BLM, from the bottom to the top.”
“The Colorado rancher and livestock hauler admitted to investigators with the Interior Department Inspector General’s office that ‘probably close to all’ of the horses were resold for slaughter and that he assumed they would be killed,” The Washington Post reported. There was “only one place to go … to the kill plant,” Davis told investigators after he previously assured officials that he would sell the horses only to those seeking “pasture pets” or those seeking grazing animals.
The investigation undertaken by the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) blamed managers at Land Management for failing to enforce the agency’s own policies in ensuring that no harm would come to the horses. “Managers … failed to enforce [Bureau of Land Management] policy of limiting the sales of horses and ensuring that the horses went to good homes,” stated the IG’s report.
In spite of Davis’ ongoing refusal to identify the buyers in his resale transactions, the Bureau never bothered to verify Davis’ stated intentions for the horses or follow up on where the horses were going, according to the report. The IG also found that the Bureau continued to sell horses to Davis for at least three years—spending $140,000 on their delivery—even after receiving information alleging that Davis was sending the animals out of the country to be killed. Without further investigation, discussions among Bureau employees were said to have established no firm evidence of Davis’ actions beyond those alleged in the reports they received.
The program now limits sales to four horses per six months to each buyer.
The inspector general’s office referred Davis’ case for prosecution, but federal and state officials declined to take action.
“Unfortunately, there will be no justice for these mustangs, who suffered a brutal death in Mexican slaughter plants,” Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said in a statement. “No one at the [Bureau] is being held accountable for this betrayal, and Tom Davis is not being prosecuted for violating his contractual obligation to not sell the horses for slaughter.”
-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Nearly 2,000 Wild Horses Sent to Slaughterhouse Instead of Pasture after Government Sale, Probe Says (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)
Investigative Report of Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Buyer (Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior) (pdf)
USDA Moves Closer to Approving Horse Slaughter Plant in U.S. (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)