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BLM says it has ‘no legal recourse’ to stop wild horse slaughter

SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press Writer

RENO – Animal activists criticized the Bureau of Land Management on Friday for allowing six previously protected wild horses to be slaughtered for meat, and said it proves federal safeguards repealed last year need to be reinstated.

The BLM is investigating how the mustangs ended up at an Illinois slaughterhouse, but the government has “no legal recourse” to prevent such slaughters since a 34-year-old law was changed in December, agency spokeswoman Celia Boddington said.

The BLM sold the six horses that had been rounded up in Wyoming to a private owner in Oklahoma earlier this month, the agency said.

The sale was authorized under the change in law in December. The amendment by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., directs the agency offer for sale any excess mustangs that are older than age 10 or were unsuccessfully offered to the public three times under a separate, long-running adoption program.

“Although it was six wild horses whose blood was spilled, it could easily have been 60 or 200,” said Trina Bellak, president of the American Horse Defense Fund.

“Virtually any and all of the wild horses sold recently under the new Burns sale authority are in jeopardy. The change was a disaster waiting to happen and now it has,” she said.

The BLM might step up its screening process for potential horse buyers, Boddington said.

“We regret this incident occurred, but these horses were private property,” she said.

“We certainly do our best to vet those potential buyers to make sure they have a real interest and intend to provide long-term care to these animals,” she said.

BLM won’t release any information about the person who purchased the mustangs, but Nancy Perry, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the purchaser was an Oklahoma man who claimed to be a minister who wanted the mustangs for a youth camp.

Officials at the processing plant defended their disposal of the mustangs in a “humane manner” while recycling them into food for foreign markets.

“We don’t feel the government should be deciding for livestock owners how they dispose of their animals. This just gives the BLM the same options that a farmer or rancher has,” said Jim Tucker, general manager of Cavel International Inc. in Dekalb, Ill.

Tucker said Cavel “euthanizes the animals in a humane manner” – with a gun-like “penetrating captive bolt” shot into the forehead. It’s the same method used at cattle slaughterhouses and approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, he said.

“We always felt here that we are recycling a resource and producing food,” he said.

Cavel typically pays 47 cents a pound for useable horse meat, or about $300 for a 1,000-pound horse that produces about 600 pounds of horse meat, Tucker said.

“It doesn’t come anywhere near what a useable horse commands at auction,” he said.

Burns authored an amendment repealing the slaughter ban at the urging of ranchers concerned about overpopulation of the horses and their effect on the range.

About 37,000 wild horses and burros roam the Western range, about 9,000 more than the BLM has said the natural forage can sustain. The animals are captured during periodic government roundups.

“I’m sorry to see these animals destroyed,” Burns said.

“The man who purchased these horses from the BLM lied and said they were for a church youth group. He then turned around and sold them to a slaughterhouse,” he said. “I continue to believe the program is working, as nearly 2,000 horses now have new homes and people to care for them, but it’s a shame that six didn’t make it.”

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., have introduced legislation to repeal the Burns measure.

“What has transpired here is a wake-up call to the Congress and evidence as to why immediate action should be taken on my legislation to restore the ban on the commercial sale for slaughter of our nation’s wild horse heritage,” Rahall said.

The current excess horse program is separate from the BLM’s adoption program, in which younger horses are sold individually at auctions and remain protected under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Those adopting horses must keep the animals for one year before they receive ownership title. Under the new program, buyers get immediate ownership.