32,000 Adopted Horses, Burros Are Missing in Action at BLM (AP: Reprint 1997)


PM Sick Filly PVC March 25 2014

Government: People who want the formerly wild animals are supposed to wait a year to get title before they can be sold. But enforcement is lax and many end up slaughtered.

Cross-posted from the LA Times for educational purposes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal program to protect wild horses and burros has lost track of more than 32,000 animals placed in adoption, allowing people to neglect, abuse and even slaughter some of them for profit.

In addition, officials of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management may have falsified records to cover up the problem and ignored warnings that thousands of adopters have not been checked and have not received titles to their animals, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

“Records are systematically falsified and no one wants to know about it,” said Reed Smith, a former BLM administrator who retired from the New Mexico office in 1995.

In 1971, Congress enacted a law to protect wild horses and burros and place excess animals for adoption. In 1978, to better prevent their slaughter or sale, it created a system of legal titles: The adopter would keep each animal for one year, comply with a health check, then get title.

Until the title is issued, the animal would remain government property.

Using the BLM’s computerized records maintained in Denver and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the AP found that 32,774 of all adopted animals–or 20%–remain untitled. Legally, those horses and burros are still federal property.

The adopted horses were given to more than 18,000 different people.

Last month, the AP reported that the $16-million-a-year program has allowed thousands of titled wild horses and burros to be slaughtered. The investigation found that BLM employees are among those profiting from the slaughter.

In response to the first report, Wild Horse and Burro Program chief Thomas Pogacnik wrote: “Once title is issued, the animal is private property.”

Under the 1971 law, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is mandated by Congress to protect wild horses and burros on public lands. Babbitt refused to comment for this story.

BLM officials say they rely on spot checks to trace horses that remain untitled. But Larry Woodard, the former state director of New Mexico’s BLM office, called spot checks inadequate.

“One out of every five animals adopted by the bureau never being titled would indicate that the titling aspect of the adoption program has not been a subject of intense concern,” Woodard wrote in a 1993 memo.

A U.S. Justice Department memo from April 1996 indicated that the BLM is not carefully screening adopters because the agency does not want to know what happens to the animals.

“The Adopt-a-Horse program is seriously flawed. . . . BLM has an unstated policy of not looking too closely at proposed adoptions,” wrote Charles Brooks, a Justice Department attorney who had been assisting the U.S. attorney’s office in Texas with an investigation of the program. “The agency’s approach to this was its version of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ”

A March 27, 1995, internal memo from that investigation quotes BLM law enforcement agent John Brenna as saying that Lili Thomas, a BLM official, made “a tacit admission of backdating documents used in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.”

“Her additional comments were that she did not know if this was illegal or not,” Brenna wrote.

Thomas did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment. Brenna refused to comment.

In the 25 years since the law’s passage, the BLM has gathered 165,635 animals in 10 Western states deemed “excess” and given most of them to adopters for $125 each. About 40,000 horses and burros remain in the wild.

Thomas Sharp, a 43-year-old wheat and alfalfa farmer, sits in a West Texas penitentiary, the only person in the country in federal prison for selling untitled horses.

He says he couldn’t afford to feed the animals and didn’t bother to send in a form requesting title. “They got me on a signature, but they got me, that’s for sure,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Hank Hockeimer of Oklahoma said he hoped Sharp’s four-month sentence would set an example.

“Our purpose for prosecuting this case was to send a message that under this program you can’t ostensibly adopt these horses and then sell them before you have title,” he said.

The AP contacted 20 adopters of untitled horses last week, but only two still had their animals. One said his horse died, another gave his away and the rest said they had sold their untitled horses, mostly at livestock auctions.

Wild horses sold at auction almost all eventually end up slaughtered, according to the operators of North American horse slaughterhouses.

George Varner Sr., who spent 20 years as a “killer buyer” for slaughterhouses, said one or two wild mustangs show up at auction barns each month in central Mississippi alone.

He said the only people willing to bid on the horses are the slaughterhouse buyers. “These horses aren’t good for anything else,” he said.

The AP’s Fred Bayles, Chris Sullivan and Drew Sullivan contributed to this report.

Protect Mustangs is an organization who protects and preserves native and wild horses.

8 thoughts on “32,000 Adopted Horses, Burros Are Missing in Action at BLM (AP: Reprint 1997)

  1. We feel we must find a way to get rid of the BLM and the crooked people who are paid off by the cattle ranchers. This must be done from the top people to the very bottom of the pack. GET RID OF THE BLM. They have ruined and taken the lives of so many animals from Buffalo (Bison) to wolves. They are predatory criminals seeking handouts from the ranchers and hunters. Why is this allowed to continue, and for so long? Now they want to play with cruel sterilization methods. Why? Are they bored? They’ll do anything for pain to the wild horses and burros. Get rid of them all!!!!

  2. BLM employees guilty of busing policies and animals should not only be fired but also prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law. This is just another example of American greed and the “me first and only” attitude at the expense of defenseless animals. SHAME on them!!!

  3. Telling us this terrible information and not giving us specifics as to who to contact to assist in helping the horses and burros is not helpful to their cause- give us name and email or telephone numbers to call to have them take action-waiting advisement –

  4. This is a history lesson. BoLM was busted in 1997. Sources claim BoLM is still sending them to slaughter. The best thing to do is to contact your elected officials and make sure they don’t give the wild horses to the states, counties, cities to be used as “work horses” because they will be too hard to track down and will surely end up at slaughter.

  5. What I found a few years ago was what is called “Peer White Paper” this came out in April 1997. It is about 44 pages long but worth it to read it. It may be in their archives. It is about the corruption at the BLM and proof they were sending the mustangs to slaughter http://www.peer.org
    I have said this before that I believe that all of the mustangs that have been rounded up except for the ones that are now in holding have already been sent to slaughter the reason is the fact that someone in Europe happened to go to a supermarket and was checking the meat counter and saw pkgs of horse meat that said on the label that it was wild grass fed horses in the US. There are organizations in Europe that have been trying to stop the slaughter over there too just like the organizations in Canada.
    All of the private ranches that the BLM claims to have the 50,000 or so horses boarded at is a lie the reason I think that is because they will not give out the names of the states where the horses are so supposed to be or the names of the ranches claiming privacy BS that is how they are keeping it hidden from the public. They keep for public viewing some horses at corrals that the public are allowed to be taken on a prearranged short tour they may have a few local ranches where some of the horses are kept at but very few. But yet the BLM bosses are being paid millions of taxpayer dollars to keep 50,000 horses no one ever sees I have named the missing horses “ghost horses” because they are no longer living.

  6. Luke 6:31 ~ Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    God created all the animals (Psalm 104). All animals belong to God (Psalm 50:10). God cares for the animals. “Jesus said: ‘are not the five sparrows sold for two copper coins and not one of them is forgotten before God.

  7. I am truly saddened and appalled by this. I cannot believe that this is happening and needs to be stopped ASAP. George Varner Sr.,should be ashamed of himself. For him to have no regard for this animals is disgusting. I bet if it was affecting his family or his income he wouldn’t be saying that. I hope there’s a special place in hell for him and who else stands behind him,

  8. BLM is a federal business that is supposed to follow federal law..which by the way, is the 1971 free roaming wild horse and burro act. No horse or burro from those lands assigned to them by that law, may be removed, harmed or killed. Some freakin republican added a rider which paves way for horse adoption. and eventually , pretend adopters…ie, kill buyers. The republicans for some unknown reason hate these magnificent animals and pull many strings to see that they will be wiped out. Why, republicans, why?? Don’t you have enough other things to hate? The evil (bottom line) BLM has it’s hand out to anybody who will fill it, except for those who show mercy to animals! BLM must be dismantled!

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