More than a year after two lawmakers demanded that then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar disclose if and why as many as 1,700 federally protected wild horses may have been sold and slaughtered, no report has been released.
Now Salazar is long gone, and the department's inspector general still has not issued findings from an investigation promised by the end of 2013. The lawmakers want answers.
"It's disappointing," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, who in January 2013 had written to the Interior Department with Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. In their letter, the two said they were troubled by concerns that the government may have sold captured mustangs to a "kill buyer," who then shipped them to a Mexican slaughterhouse.
In response at the time, an Interior spokesman said, "The Office of the Inspector General has initiated an independent investigation into the situation, and we look forward to the results of that inquiry. Anybody that is found to have violated the law should be held accountable."
Meanwhile, the agency also announced that sales of wild horses and burros will be restricted under new rules put into place by the Bureau of Land Management — a move that wild-horse advocates dismissed as "window dressing."
But the results of the promised investigation have yet to be publicly reported. And more than a year later, neither the department nor its inspector general responded Wednesday to inquiries about the status of the investigation.
Grijalva said Wednesday that he suspects the agency is just hoping that people "forget about it." Whitfield's office had no immediate comment.
Grijalva added that Obama administration officials should not assume he'll drop the matter because he's a Democrat. "Maybe the department believes because we're of the same party maybe we won't scream and humiliate them and call them into a meeting in front of the world," he said. But Grijalva said he does not intend to let questions go unanswered.
A report in September 2012 by the news service ProPublica said that the BLM sold more than 1,700 captured mustangs at about $10 a head to Tom Davis, described as a Colorado livestock hauler and a proponent of the horse-meat industry.
Salazar is also from Colorado. Some published reports say Davis claims to know Salazar and hauled cattle for him for years. An Interior Department spokeswoman said last year, however, that Salazar had no recollection of Davis, including any business dealings with him.
Laura Leigh, an advocate with Wild Horse Education, said Wednesday that she believes the BLM silence is "par for the course," signifying the agency's belief that people will simply forget this matter, though it had initially promised a report by the end of the 2013.
"But there's been no word," she said.