Election Section

Some wild horses still sold to be slaughtered

By Robert Gehrke The Associated Press
Wednesday December 12, 2001

WASHINGTON — Wild horses put up for adoption by the Bureau of Land Management continue to be slaughtered, in some cases within weeks of the owner gaining title of the animal, according to the latest BLM records. 

The quick turnaround has critics questioning how aggressively BLM is enforcing a rule requiring adopters to swear that they don’t plan to sell the horse to slaughter. 

“Not only is BLM not actually prosecuting people, but they’re not even doing the investigation to try to figure it out and it seems like they don’t want to know,” said Howard Crystal, an attorney for the Fund for Animals, whose lawsuit led to the no-slaughter clause. 

Forty wild horses adopted out by BLM were sent to slaughter houses in the six-month period covered by the records, four of them within four weeks of the owner receiving title to the horse.  

Two others were slaughtered within two months of being titled. 

Owners must raise the horse for a year before receiving title. BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said, in that year, the bureau does everything possible to ensure horses don’t go to slaughter. Once the horse is titled it is the owner’s personal property, and it can be sold to a new owner who can sell the animal to a slaughterhouse without violating the law. 

As a result, more than 600 horses gathered in BLM roundups across the West have ended up being killed since 1998. 

In the latest BLM records, covering Aug. 28, 2000, to Feb. 26, 2001, three of the four horse owners whose horses were slaughtered within a month of being titled had sold the horse to a third party. The fourth owner could not be reached. 

Two horses titled Nov. 17, 2000, to Jimmy Williams of Washington, Iowa, were slaughtered 20 days later, according to BLM logs. 

“I just sold them to somebody. I didn’t have any idea where they’d end up,” said Williams. He said he was not contacted by the BLM. 

However, the quick turnaround from adoption to slaughter seems to be less frequent than it once was. 

In the most recent six-month period, six horses went to slaughter within three months of being titled, a rate of one per month. By contrast, a BLM report covering March 1998 to September 1999 showed 186 horses were slaughtered within three months of being titled, a rate of nearly 10 per month. 

Crystal suggests the problem may be worse than it seems. Because of an oversight, BLM did not give the Fund for Animals records for late 1999 and early 2000. The records should be completed by next week. 

Last week, the Fund For Animals asked a federal judge to block BLM’s plans to round up 21,000 of the estimated 48,000 horses roaming Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming over five years. 

“Those horses need homes so BLM is under increased pressure to adopt out and title horses,” said Crystal. That could result with more horses going to slaughter houses, he said. 

The group also argues that thinning the horse population so much could leave herds cut off from one another and ravaged by inbreeding, threatening their survival. 

In the year ending Sept. 30, the BLM had adopted out 7,630 wild horses. Since the adoption program began in 1973, 186,000 horses have been placed.