Horse Adoption Program Challenged

Land Management Agency Data Show Animals Sold, Slaughtered
Robert Gehrke Associated Press  
December 26, 2001; Page A29

Wild horses put up for adoption by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continue to be slaughtered, in some cases within weeks of the owner gaining title of the animal, according to agency records.

Critics question how aggressively the agency is investigating adopters, who must sign a statement promising not to sell the horse to slaughter. Some resell the horses to owners who may then sell them for slaughter.

"Not only is BLM not actually prosecuting people, but they're not even doing the investigation to try to figure it out and it seems like they don't want to know," said Howard Crystal, a Fund for Animals attorney.

An owner must raise the horse for a year before receiving title. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Celia Boddington said that during that year, the agency does everything possible to ensure horses don't go to slaughter. Once the horse is titled, it is the owner's personal property.

For 30 years, the agency has managed wild horses on federal land. To help control the population, several thousand are captured and put up for public adoption each year.

In 1997, to settle a suit by Crystal's group, the agency agreed to require adopters to sign an affidavit that the horse is not intended for slaughter. Hundreds have still ended up in slaughterhouses.

The horses are sold by the agency for $125 and up. Crystal said he has heard of slaughterhouses paying as much as $1,000. Increased demand for horse meat in Japan and Europe has driven up prices in recent months.

Forty wild horses were sent to slaughterhouses in the six-month period ending Feb. 26, including four within four weeks of the owner receiving title, recently released agency figures show. Two others were slaughtered within two months.

Two horses titled Nov. 17, 2000, to Jimmy Williams of Washington, Iowa, were slaughtered 20 days later, according to agency logs.

"I just sold them to somebody," Williams said. "I didn't have any idea where they'd end up."

He said he lost money raising the horses. The agency did not contact him after the sale.

The rate the animals are going to slaughter seems to have slowed, however, from 10 a month during an 18-month period in 1998-99 to one per month in the latest six-month span.

Last week, the Fund for Animals asked a federal judge to block plans to round up 21,000 of the estimated 48,000 horses roaming Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming over five years.

"Those horses need homes, so BLM is under increased pressure to adopt out and title horses," Crystal said. That could result in more horses going to slaughterhouses, he said.

The group argues that thinning the horse population so much could leave herds cut off from one another and ravaged by inbreeding, threatening their survival.