Interior Goes Dark in Tale of Slaughtered Horses

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Wild horses are rounded up in the hills on the eve of the rapa das bestas, or the 'shearing of the beasts,' festival on July 6, 2012 in Sabucedo, Spain.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Feb. 5, 2014, 4:45 p.m.

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.

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