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Is the BLM leading wild horses to slaughter?

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A public watchdog group established by federal employees claims that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to turn a blind eye when wild horses under its jurisdiction are sold to slaughterhouses to supply the lucrative European market for horsemeat.

In April 1997 the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) published a damning exposé of the BLM’s wild horse and burro adoption program, claiming that the BLM allows the trafficking of wild horses to slaughterhouses, not only to feed the European market and to supply dog food manufacturers with meat, but to get the animals off valuable cattle rangeland.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, says the conditions that existed in the BLM’s wild horse and burro adoption program in 1997 still exist today. The BLM does not conduct background checks on buyers, nor does the agency track the animals’ whereabouts after they‘ve been adopted, he says. “Nothing has changed. The BLM says once the horse is adopted, the BLM’s job is done.”

The BLM is mandated under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act “to preserve and protect wild horses and burros and to manage for healthy rangelands.” When the herds get too large the BLM rounds up the excess animals and sells them at public auction.

Next month the BLM plans to capture 60 to 70 wild horses in the Pryor Mountains on the Montana/Wyoming border and auction them to the public. In 1968 31,000 acres were set aside in the Pryors as the first herd management area for wild horses in the country. The wild horses that roam the Pryors today are believed to be originally of Spanish stock, and may have escaped from either the Lewis and Clark expedition or from American Indian herds. That’s what makes them so valuable to horse enthusiasts, says Linda Coats-Markle of the BLM. Coates-Markle, who says she has never heard of PEER, says the BLM is required to follow up on animals for one year after they’ve been adopted. She says she is confident that BLM employees in her district have done so, though the agency can’t possibly monitor all animals and buyers. In 1993 the BLM began an investigation and crackdown of horse-to-slaughterhouse complaints. Among other findings the agency discovered that horses were being “adopted” by straw buyers working for slaughterhouses and that horses were being stolen outright at BLM round-ups. Prosecution was ultimately thwarted by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, according to PEER.

The BLM has been without a director for the past six or eight months, putting the agency into a “zone of benign neglect,” says Ruch. An environmental assessment for the Pryor horse adoption was issued Aug. 6, which is followed by a 30-day appeal period.

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