I.G.H.A. / HorseAid's Bureau of Land Management News
Report Acknowledges Slaughter of Wild Horses
By DOUG McINNIS
January 29, 1997, CASPER, Wyo. --
Most federally protected wild horses placed for adoption ended up at slaughterhouses,
a Justice Department inquiry has found.
Investigators also concluded that the Bureau of Land Management, which runs the Adopt-a-Horse program, followed a "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward adopters who planned to sell the horses for slaughter.
The findings were in an internal 1996 Justice Department memorandum, which said, in part, "Faced with the need to remove 10,000 horses a year from public lands, BLM has an unstated policy of not looking too closely at proposed adoptions."
While agency employees "freely admit that everyone 'knows' as a general proposition that most of the horses adopted out go to slaughter eventually, the agency tries to avoid finding out that this will happen in any given adoption," the memorandum said.
The memorandum, from the department's wildlife division, in Washington, to the U.S. attorney in San Antonio, concerned the government's case against James Galloway, a former employee of the Texas Bureau of Land Management. Galloway was suspected of planning to sell adoption program horses for slaughter and was dismissed.
After a four-year inquiry, the Justice Department dropped the case, citing insufficient evidence. But according to the internal memorandum, prosecutors uncovered new details about the adoption program.
Steve Sederwall, a former bureau investigator, said that investigators eventually found evidence that at least 1,000 horses obtained through adoptions were headed for slaughter, but that efforts to prosecute were thwarted by bureau officials.
The Justice Department and the Interior Department's inspector general are now separately investigating accusations of bureau corruption and obstruction of justice made by Sederwall and five other current or former employees.
Each year, to prevent overpopulation, the bureau culls thousands of horses from federal rangelands in the West and puts the animals up for adoption. The bureau is supposed to screen out potential adopters who plan to turn a quick profit by selling cheap horses for slaughter.
But prosecutors concluded that the bureau had more horses than qualified adopters, the memorandum said.
"It is obvious to everyone involved in the program that there is a very limited market for adopted horses to be maintained for a life that could last 30 years," it said. "On the other hand, thousands of horses a year, far more than could be taken care of by legitimate adoptions, have to be moved off the range.
"The agency's approach to this was its version of 'don't ask, don't tell' -- that is, do not ask the follow-up questions which might elicit information that would preclude transfer of title.
A bureau spokesman, Terry Lewis, said, "We screen each and every adopter. We would not allow them to take title if we have knowledge that their intention is to turn around and sell them for slaughter."
The Justice Department would not comment on its memorandum.
But Galloway, the former Texas land bureau employee, said his superiors were aware that many of the horses were going to slaughter.
"It doesn't take a space scientist to realize that if a man adopts 100 head of horses, he's not going to feed them for the next 30 years," he said.
Profits for selling wild horses for slaughter vary widely, depending on the size and condition of the horse and commodity prices, which have been as high as 72 cents a pound at recent Western auctions. Wild horses could weigh 500 to 600 pounds or in some cases hundreds of pounds more.
In 1990, the General Accounting Office reported that during the 1980s, the bureau removed thousands more horses from the range each year than its adoption program could absorb. As a result, the accounting office found, the bureau placed 20,000 horses with large-scale adopters, and in the process failed to comply with regulations for monitoring adoptions. Thousands of adopted horses were sold to slaughterhouses, the office said.
Although the bureau subsequently instituted measures to prevent large-scale adoptions and adoptions for slaughter, critics said these efforts were ineffective.
Sederwall, the former bureau investigator, said adopters circumvented rules limiting them to four horses by having other people adopt.
Another investigation, this one by the bureau's own investigative unit, will examine charges in an Associated Press article that said that more than 200 bureau employees have adopted more than 600 wild horses and burros. The article said that some of the employees could not account for the whereabouts of the horses, while others acknowledged sending them to slaughter.
Bill Sharp, the bureau's former manager of adoptions in the Southwest, expressed his frustrations with the program.
"I was in the program for almost 14 years," Sharp said. "They've always had too many horses. We were under pressure all the time to move more horses. That's the name of the game."
"If you look at the history of the program, it's been a wreck ever since it started," he said.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times
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