The Bureau of Land Management has pulled the plug on a wild horse and burro policy that animal rights advocates worried would make it easier to sell the animals for slaughter.
The internal BLM policy allowed any individual or group to buy up to 25 horses at one time without requiring approval from BLM assistant director of resources and planning — currently Kristin Bail. The intent was to spur more sales of wild horses and burros that the bureau is caring for in holding pens and corrals.
But this week BLM rescinded the policy, telling E&E News that it was not as protective of animal welfare as they wanted it to be.
The bulk buying policy was established without public notice in a May 2018 instruction memorandum. The memo replaced a 2014 policy that capped sales at five wild horses and burros without the assistant director’s approval. Purchases of five or more animals were limited to once every six months.
The goal was to spur sales of the nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros BLM has rounded up and removed from federal rangelands. Caring for the captured animals is expensive, and BLM has estimated it costs as much as $48,000 to care for each horse over its lifetime.
But the policy change concerned some wild horse advocates, who said previously lax BLM policies on bulk horse and burro sales led to large-scale horse slaughter.
BLM insisted that the policy included many safeguards to prevent anyone from buying horses in bulk with the intent of transferring them to slaughter.
Nevertheless, the agency issued an instruction memorandum on Wednesday rescinding the policy and reverting to the 2014 policy of requiring bureau headquarters to approve sales of five or more animals. Bail signed the memo.
BLM said it is “committed to ensuring restrictions and safeguards for the well-being of purchased animals are fully enforced,” in a statement to E&E News.
“The now-rescinded 2018 policy better facilitated the purchase of wild horses and burros by BLM partners for training and/or rehoming; however, upon further review, the BLM determined that lowering the maximum number of animals that can be purchased in a 6-month period better ensures that all restrictions and safeguards to protect animal welfare are followed,” the statement said.
Neda DeMayo, founder and president of Return to Freedom, said her group and others “appreciate” BLM’s decision to rescind the policy.
“When the sales policy change was made last year, it looked as though the very agency charged with overseeing wild horses and burros was prepared to look the other way while federally protected animals were shipped in large numbers to foreign slaughterhouses,” DeMayo said.
But they still don’t trust BLM, and they want Congress to “do away with” BLM’s authority to sell captured horses completely.
“In 2005, when Congress gave BLM the authority to sell captured horses over the age of 10, it was a serious blow to efforts to protect and preserve America’s wild horse and burros,” DeMayo said.
Advocates can point to an embarrassing incident revealed five years ago in which hundreds of wild horses rounded up off federal rangelands were indeed sold to slaughterhouses.
BLM established its 2014 policy requiring headquarters approval for sales of five or more animals after a ProPublica investigation that found the bureau, beginning in 2009, had sold nearly 1,800 captive horses to Colorado rancher and livestock hauler Tom Davis and that he could not account for the whereabouts of the animals he bought.
The subsequent Interior Department inspector general’s office investigation resulted in Davis admitting to investigators that “probably close to all” of the horses he bought from BLM were sent to Mexican slaughterhouses.
The latest decision to rescind the bulk sale policy goes down as another failed attempt to address growing numbers of wild horses and burros that are trampling federal rangelands. BLM estimates there are more than 82,000 animals roaming 27 million acres of federal rangeland — three times the number of animals the range can sustain without causing damage to vegetation, soils and other resources.
BLM last year abandoned a research project involving a permanent sterilization technique for wild mares after a federal lawsuit from advocates and a subsequent preliminary injunction order by a federal judge.
BLM has expressed concerns about the growing herds and this week finalized an adoption incentive program offering $1,000 to those who formally adopt a wild horse.