Los Angeles Times, January 5, 1997

Trailís End for Horses:  Slaughter
By Martha Mendosa
Associated Press

Adoption: U.S. program is meant to save excess wild animals. Federal employees may be profiting from killing, investigation shows.

Reno, Nev.--A multimillion dollar federal program created to save the lives of wild horses is instead channeling them by the thousands to slaughterhouses, where they are chopped into cuts of meat.

Among those who might be profiting from the slaughter are employees of the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that administers the program.

These are the conclusions of an Associated Press investigation of the U. S. Wild Horse and Burro Program, which has rounded up 165,000 animals and spent $250 million since it was created by Congress 25 years ago.

The program was intended to protect and manage wild horses on public lands, where they compete for resources with grazing cattle. The idea: Gather up excess horses and offer them to the public for adoption.

Nothing in the law prevents anyone, however, from selling horses to slaughterhouses once they gain ownership. While it is common for old or lame horses to go to slaughter, nearly all former BLM horses sent to slaughter are young and healthy, according to slaughterhouses.

The programís rules let anyone adopt up to four horses per year, paying $125 for each healthy animal. If the adopters properly care for the horses for one year, they get title to them in the form of BLM certificates bearing a number freeze-branded into each horses hide.

Using freeze-brand numbers and computer records, the AP traced more than 57 former BLM horses sold to the slaughterhouses since September. Eighty percent of them were less than 10 years old and 25% were less than 5 years old. Horses are often ridden well into their twenties.

At the Cavel West Slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore., for example, the proprietor, Pascal Derde, displayed a sheaf of BLM certificates for horses he recently butchered and sent to Belgium for human consumption.

Asked about the APís findings, Tom Pogacnik, director of the BLMís $16-million-a-year Wild Horse and Burro Program, conceded that about 90% of the horses rounded up go to slaughter.

Has a program intended to save wild horses, as a symbol of the American frontier, evolved into a supply system for horse meat? "I guess thatís one way of looking at it," Pogacnik said. "Recognizing that we canít leave them out there, well, at some point critters do have to come off the range."

Clifford Hansen, a former U.S. senator from Wyoming who introduced the bill to create the program, said he now wishes he could remove his name from the legislation.

"The law was intended to recognize the significance of wild horses and burros," said Hansen, now 84, "but talk about a waste of public funds!"

The government spends up to $1,100 to round up, vaccinate, freeze brand and adopt out a horse. Although adopters pay $125 for each healthy horse, a lame or old horse can be bought for as little as $25, or even acquired free. After holding the horses for a year, adopters are free to sell them for slaughter, typically receiving $700 per animal from the slaughterhouse.

The sellers find no shortage of horse meat buyers. The demand for American horse meat has long been strong in Asia and Europe.

Government officials offered conflicting opinions on whether it is legal or ethical for BLM officials to adopt and sell wild horses.

The AP matched computer records of horse adoptions with a computerized list of federal employees and found that more than 200 current BLM employees have adopted more than 600 wild horses and burros.

Some of these employees, when contacted, could not account for their animals. Others acknowledge that some of their horses were sent to slaughterhouses.

In Rock Springs, Wyo., the BLM corrals are run by Victor McDarment, whose crew rounds up horses from open ranges in Wyoming and arranges adoptions.

According to BLM database records, McDarment has adopted 16 horses. His estranged wife adopted nine. His children adopted at least six. His girlfriend adopted four. His ex-wife adopted one. His co-workers in the corrals and their families adopted 54.

McDarment said he could not account for the whereabouts of all the horses.

"I donít keep track," he said.

Some ended up with Dennis Gifford, a Lovell, Wyo., rancher and rodeo contractor who said he has tried to breed them for rodeo stock. He said he is sure some of McDarments horses were slaughtered.

They have to end up somewhere, Gifford said.

Federal law prohibits U.S. government employees from using public office for private gain. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics said this means BLM workers are not allowed to profit from BLM programs.

But Gabriel Paone, the Interior Departments ethics official in Washington, said there is nothing wrong with BLM employees adopting wild horses and then selling them for profit.

"Theyíre not doing this as public officials." Paone said. "Theyíre doing this as private citizens."

The federal government is conducting several reviews of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, with two audits and two reports to Congress expected to be completed in 1997.

"I welcome the scrutiny," Pogacnik said. "It can only help."

Roundup is Beginning of End for Herd

By Martha Mendoza
Associated Press

Three Fingers Gulch. Ore.

You see them first.

A flowing line of horses gallops over the ridge. Behind them comes the helicopter, swooping down to 5 feet above the ground, banking side to side to keep the Three Fingers herd in a group.

This is the beginning of the end for these wild horses. Although they are federally protected---deemed "living symbols of the American West" by Congress 25 years ago---most are destined for restaurants in Europe and Asia.

We hear them coming. Whinnies and clattering hooves. Snorts and grunts. The helicopter roaring behind them.

Hidden are about a dozen wranglers, paid about $300 for each horse they catch, and the BLM staffers, paid to observe.

The herd nears the "Judas horse," the one trained to lead them into captivity. Prompted by a slap, the Judas horse bolts into the open gates of a trap, and the herd follows. A hidden wrangler pulls a latch and the gate slams shut.

Stretched resources in the wilds led to the BLMís 25-year-old program to capture the wild animals and put them up for adoption, By limiting herd sizes, the program aims to prevent starvation and further an ecological balance.

The Three Fingers herd ends up at the Palomino Valley Adoption and Placement Center in Reno. Separated by sex and age, the animals will live here at least 30 days. Stallions are gelded, treated for worms and vaccinated. They all receive freeze-brands on their necks.

Horses can be adopted at placement centers or at regional centers. Eventually, many end up at livestock auctions.

Shane Christian works the Wyoming auctions. Heís known as a "killer buyer," meaning he buys for the slaughterhouses. He also buys BLM horses--"more than Iíd like to," he says.

"La viande de cheval, les fines bouches, níen font quíune bouchee," ("Horse meat, the finest cuts, you canít have just one bite,") reads a poster at the Cavel West slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore. It depicts a juicy hunk of horse meat on a fork heading toward a woman lips.

The killer buyers arrive at Cavel West regularly with loads of horses packed in trailers.

After being weighed, the horses are moved into a muddy pens where they will spend hours, and, in some cases, weeks.

The ramp is narrow and steep. Inside the horse is shot in the forehead with a special gun, then it is bled by workers wearing white coveralls and rubber boots.

Horses carcasses are rolled into the boning room, where about 10 workers cut them into packageable chunks. The dark red meat is sealed in plastic bags, trucked to Chicago and flown to Europe.

Pascal Derde, a Belgian veterinarian who manages the place, says objections in the United States to slaughtering horses are simply "a cultural difference." And, he says, there is nothing else to do with the horses.