THE BLOG

Forgotten War Heroes This Veteran's Day

11/11/2013 06:30 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Obama Administration Allows America's War Horses To Fall Into Slaughter Pipeline

Today we mark the service and sacrifice of our veterans, as well as our commitment to look out for them once they return to civilian life.

Lately we've been reminded that this commitment extends to the military's service animals, like the dogs who are now placed in good homes after being retired from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, one group of animal veterans has been forgotten. These are America's War Horses -- the horses who were used as cavalry mounts and who nobly served our country -- often giving their lives. Right now, the federal government is complicit in a shameful violation of our responsibility toward these historic and cultural icons.

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The remote and rugged northwest corner of Nevada on the California-Oregon border is called "Mustang Country" because of the wild horses that have roamed there since the 1800s. Wild horses are deeply entrenched in the history of the area; on the backs of their ancestors, the West was won.

Wild horses captured from the lands that are now the Sheldon Refuge were captured and shipped overseas to serve in battle, including in the Spanish-American War and World War I. These historic animals -- whose presence on the Sheldon lands predates the creation of the refuge by at least half a century -- played a critical role in America's past.

The decedents of America's War Horses should be honored and protected. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has turned its back on these horses, disregarding and literally disposing of them.

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Historically, pressure from ranchers wanting to graze cattle on federal lands in and around Sheldon, led to an endless series of roundups that often ended tragically for Sheldon's mustangs. In 1971, the Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but it only applied to wild horses on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Lands. Sheldon's horses were left out in the cold.

In the early 1990s cattle grazing was eliminated from the refuge and the Sheldon range rebounded. Today, forage is lush and plentiful, the antelope population (the primary species that the refuge was created to protect) is larger than ever, and the wild horses and burros are fit, healthy and strong.

But the roundups continue. In 2012, despite thousands of Americans sending in comments urging protection of the Sheldon wild horses and burros, the FWS turned their backs on the public and America's War Horses by pushing forward with a new plan to eradicate these animals within five years.

A year later, the assault on Sheldon's wild herds began. Between September 9 to 14, a helicopter stampede captured 415 wild horses. Despite public opposition and a federal lawsuit, refuge officials proceeded to turn 252 of these horses over to a government contractor, Stan Palmer of J&S Associates in Mississippi, who is supposed to find them "quality" and "long-term" homes.

The problem is, the FWS's government contract with Palmer is vague and today the FWS is unable to verify the whereabouts of as many as 202 of 262 wild horses previously placed with Palmer between 2010 and 2012. The agency's own investigation found that "a bunch" of these horses were sold at a livestock auction, where kill buyers often purchase horses for shipment to slaughter.

As one legitimate Mississippi horse rescue person put it, "You can't even find a home for a good riding horse in Mississippi. What do you think Stan Palmer is going to do with hundreds of wild, untamed Nevada mustangs?"

The answer appeared in a Facebook post by one of Palmer's employees stating:

"we do government contacting (sic) to take in wild horses and give them homes. These are not branded or tattooed mustangs. They are simply wild horses. We are not aloud (sic) to sell them. you show up with your trailer and load em up... when they leave my house they are no longer my business."

Days later, horses were hauled away by the trailer load.

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It's the kind of situation that fuels cynicism about government spending and waste. Since 2010, the federal government has paid Palmer nearly $1 million in taxpayer dollars to take wild Nevada mustangs and give them away in Mississippi. This benefits the government in one way: by laundering the horses through a middleman, the FWS avoids the political heat that would result from taking them directly to a slaughter auction.

Sadly, the arrangement does not benefit American taxpayers or these defenseless horses, who just over two months ago, were roaming wild and free.

Nearly 20,000 citizens have contacted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about this travesty, and thousands have written to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has direct oversight over FWS refuges. But Washington does not seem to care.

On this Veterans Day, while Washington looks the other way, America's War Horses are literally being sent into the slaughter pipeline.

The Obama administration and Congress have turned their backs on America's War Horses despite polls that show Americans reject horse slaughter and support protecting and preserving wild horses on the western range. This Veterans Day please remember the sacrifices of all veterans, including the tens of thousands of horses who tirelessly served this country, and their descendants, who today are forgotten and literally thrown away.