On Friday, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a damning report about the Bureau of Land Management's mismanagement of wild horses. The report concluded that agency officials did nothing to prevent a notorious livestock hauler from acquiring nearly 1,800 wild horses and burros over a four-year period and handing them over to kill buyers who sent them to Mexico to slaughter for human consumption. The OIG report exposed the behavior of a Colorado hauler between 2008 and 2012 - overlapping closely with the tenure of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, long criticized for his poor oversight of the nation's wild horse program. According to the OIG report, the hauler, Tom Davis, allegedly "had farming and trucking connections" with Salazar. The OIG report notes that Davis began gathering horses from the BLM after Salazar took office as Interior Secretary (the BLM program is part of the Department of the Interior and therefore was under Salazar's control).
Years ago, The Fund for Animals sniffed out the problem of the BLM rounding up horses and then selling them at bargain-basement rates to transporters and kill buyers who shipped them to slaughter plants throughout North America. In response, the BLM reformed its practices, stipulating that no individual could "adopt" more than four horses and burros through the agency's adoption program. In recent years, as a further safety net, the HSUS worked hard to secure language in the Interior spending bills, further stipulating that no wild horses could be sent to slaughter. That language was included in the 2009 Interior spending bill - the same period during which Davis engaged in his illegal conduct.
The BLM wild horse program has been wracked by mismanagement for decades and in recent years the BLM has gathered more horses from the range than can be absorbed into the adoption system. This has resulted in nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros being held in short-term and long-term holding facilities, with costs associated with this program consuming 60 percent of the agency's entire budget. It's become as much a captive wild horse management program as a wild horse program.
We at The HSUS have long advocated for more extensive use of the fertility control vaccine PZP as a way to keep horses on the range and to check the growth of the population as a means of obviating the need for the costly and often inhumane round-ups. The National Academy of Sciences has also took a critical view of BLM's management and urged the agency to make more common use of the PZP contraceptive vaccine as a means of limiting fertility on the range.
Now, the OIG's report makes yet another compelling case for why round-ups pose extraordinary risks to wild horses - simply put, the agency has not conducted proper oversight of buyers. In 2012, at a campaign event for President Obama where Salazar was present, a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter asked the secretary about his association with the hauler. Salazar threatened to punch out the reporter, and later apologized for his threat. Putting aside any favoritism that may have been at work, it's astonishing how one livestock hauler with his background was able to acquire such an extraordinary number of horses. The wrongful sale also cost taxpayers $140,000 to deliver truckloads of horses to Davis, according to the report. He paid $10 apiece for the horses, or less than $18,000 total, and made as much as $154,000 in profits by selling them for slaughter - a different kind of haul for Davis.
Salazar is long gone from the Interior Department, and that's a good thing for horses and for animal protection concerns in general. It's now up to Secretary Sally Jewell to get this program on the right track, scale back the round-ups, and aggressively implement fertility control programs throughout the West. These fertility programs work, and the inertia to keep doing things the same old way must end. How many more scandals and reports can this agency endure before it brings fundamental change to this program?