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All the Missing Horses: What Happened to the Wild Horses Tom Davis Bought From the Gov’t?

The main buyer from a federal program designed to protect wild horses is a Colorado man who advocates slaughter. He’s bought more than 1,700 since 2009, but won’t say where they are.

A lone mustang who escaped the helicopters watches a Bureau of Land Management roundup in the Stone Cabin Valley in Nevada during the winter of 2012. (Dave Philipps)

The Bureau of Land Management faced a crisis this spring. 

The agency protects and manages herds of wild horses that still roam the American West, rounding up thousands of them each year to keep populations stable.

But by March, government pens and pastures were nearly full. Efforts to find new storage space had fallen flat. So had most attempts to persuade members of the public to adopt horses. Without a way to relieve the pressure, the agency faced a gridlock that would invite lawsuits and potentially cause long-term damage to the range. 

So the BLM did something it has done increasingly over the last few years. It turned to a little-known Colorado livestock hauler named Tom Davis who was willing to buy hundreds of horses at a time, sight unseen, for $10 a head. 

The BLM has sold Davis at least 1,700 wild horses and burros since 2009, agency records show -- 70 percent of the animals purchased through its sale program.

Like all buyers, Davis signs contracts promising that animals bought from the program will not be slaughtered and insists he finds them good homes.

But Davis is a longtime advocate of horse slaughter. By his own account, he has ducked Colorado law to move animals across state lines and will not say where they end up. He continues to buy wild horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, which are not protected by the same laws. And since 2010, he has been seeking investors for a slaughterhouse of his own.

"Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt," he said. "What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?"

Animal welfare advocates fear that horses bought by Davis are being sent to the killing floor. 

“The BLM says it protects wild horses,” said Laura Leigh, founder of the Nevada-based advocacy group Wild Horse Education, “but when they are selling to a guy like this you have to wonder.”

BLM officials say they carefully screen buyers and are adamant that no wild horses ever go to slaughter.

“We don’t feel compelled to sell to anybody we don’t feel good about,” agency spokesman Tom Gorey said. “We want the horses to be protected.”

Sally Spencer, who runs the wild horse sales program, said the agency has had no indication of problems with Davis and it would be unfair for the BLM to look more closely at him based on the volume of his purchases.

"It is no good to just stir up rumors,” she said. “We have never heard of him not being able to find homes. So people are innocent until proven guilty in the United States."

Some BLM employees say privately that wild horse program officials may not want to look too closely at Davis. The agency has more wild horses than it knows what to do with, they say, and Davis has become a relief valve for a federal program plagued by conflict and cost over-runs. 

"They are under a lot of pressure in Washington to make numbers,” said a BLM corral manager who did not want his name used because he feared retribution from the agency’s national office. “Maybe that is what this is about. They probably don't want to look too careful at this guy."

******

Wild horses embody the mythic West: Painted Indian war ponies and the cavalry mounts that chased them, pony express runners and the tough partners of cowboys.

At the turn of the 20th Century, they numbered in the millions, but most were rounded up, slaughtered, and used for pet food or fertilizer, until by 1970, there were only 17,000 left.

In 1971, Congress stepped in to save the remaining herds, passing a law that declared wild horses “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and made it a crime for anyone to harass or kill wild horses on most federal land. The law tasked the departments of Interior and Agriculture with protecting the animals still roaming the range.

In a sense, the Bureau of Land Management -- the part of the Interior Department assigned to oversee the wild horse program -- succeeded in this a bit too well. Protected horses naturally began to reproduce and by 1983 there were an estimated 65,000 horses and burros on the range, competing for resources with cattle and native wildlife.

In the name of maintaining a sustainable balance, the BLM began removing horses from the wild. It now rounds up about 9,400 horses a year, which has kept the wild population at around 35,000.

The captured horses are put up for adoption. Almost anyone can have one for as little as $125 as long as they sign a contract promising not to sell it to slaughter.

Adoptions kept pace with round ups until investigations in the late 1980s and 1990s showed that many adopters, including several BLM employees, had turned a quick profit by selling the horses to slaughterhouses. To discourage such re-sales, the BLM began holding the title of sale for a year. Today the agency says it visits almost every adopter for a “compliance check” within six months to make sure horses are well cared for.

The restrictions protected horses, but discouraged adoptions, a trend compounded more recently by a bad economy and soaring hay prices.

Today, only one in three captured horses finds a home. The rest go into a warren of tax payer-funded corrals, feed lots and pastures collectively known as “the holding system.” Since horses often live 20 years after being captured, the holding population has grown steadily for decades from 1,600 in 1989 to more than 47,000. There are now more wild horses living in captivity than in the wild.

For decades, government auditors and wild horse welfare advocates have warned that the policy of capturing and storing horses is unsustainable and have pushed for the BLM to use fertility controls, introduce predators or expand wild horse territories, but the agency has made little progress toward these goals. In the first half of this year, for example, it treated fewer than half as many wild horses with a birth control drug than was planned. 

"I think they are caught in an old way of doing things,” said John Turner, an endocrinologist at University of Toledo who specializes in wild horse fertility control. “Once they round up the horses, I don't think they like to treat and release. They would rather remove them."

Driven by the cost of caring for unwanted wild horses, the annual price tag of the program has ballooned from $16 million in 1989 to $76 million today.

Cost pressures prompted Congress to pass a last-minute rider to a 2004 law directing the BLM to sell thousands of old or unadoptable wild horses for $10 a head without restrictions -- even for slaughter -- but the agency has not done so, fearing public outrage.

Instead, since then, the BLM has been selling horses, but requiring buyers to sign contracts saying they will  “not knowingly sell or transfer ownership of any listed wild horse and or burro to any person or organization with an intention to resell, trade, or give away the animal for processing into commercial products." Violating the agreement is a felony, but there are no compliance checks similar to those done when horses are adopted.

Even when priced at less than a few bales of hay, these horses had little appeal: Sales dropped from 1,468 in 2005 to 351 in 2008.

To explore other options for reducing the number of horses in holding, top BLM officials gathered for weekly closed-door meetings from July to October 2008. According to meeting minutes obtained by the Conquistador Equine Rescue & Advocacy Program, they considered selling thousands of animals for slaughter and even large-scale euthanasia, but concluded such actions would enrage animal-welfare activists to the point they might "threaten the safety of our facilities and our employees."

No clear plan emerged.

As the wild horse program’s situation grew increasingly dire, a new option came knocking: Tom Davis.

******

Davis, 64, a plain-spoken man with a sun-beaten brow, makes his living hauling livestock, but says reselling wild horses now accounts for a substantial part of his income.

By his own account, he has worked around horses all his life -- on racetracks, on ranches, and even rounding up wild horses for slaughter before the 1971 law put a stop to the practice.

For most of that time, he has lived in the tiny town of La Jara, in Colorado’s mountain-ringed San Luis Valley, just down the road from Ken Salazar, the former U.S. Senator who now heads the Department of the Interior.

“When my dad was alive we farmed their land,” Davis said of the Salazar family. “I like them. I do business with them. I do quite a bit of trucking for Ken.”

(Salazar did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story.)

On a warm morning in May, Davis gave a rambling two-hour interview on the 13-acre spread of corrals and truck lots where he lives.

Leaning against the fence of a muddy corral where a half dozen horses nibbled hay, wearing dusty overalls, Davis gave a simple reason for becoming the BLM’s main buyer.

"I love wild horses to death,” he said. “It's like an addiction. For some it's drugs, for me it's horses."

Tom Davis at his corrals in La Jara, Colo. (Dave Philipps)

Tom Davis at his corrals in La Jara, Colo. (Dave Philipps)

According to BLM records, Davis first contacted the program in January 2008. Documents obtained from the agency show he filled out the application to become a buyer over the phone, aided by Spencer, the BLM’s sales director, who wrote in his answers to questions on the form. (A BLM spokesman said in an email that agency employees often did this in the program’s early days, but no longer do.)

Under a question concerning Davis’ intended use of the animals, Spencer wrote “use for movies.” He later told other BLM employees he sold the horses to Mexican movie companies to use on film shoots.

Under a question about what type of horses Davis preferred, the application noted he would take males or females, so long as they were big.

At the bottom of the application, Spencer wrote that she and Davis had “Discussed goal of providing a good home and making sure none of the horses end up at slaughter plants.” A few weeks later, the BLM sent Davis 36 wild horses from its Cañon City, Colo., holding corral.

That was the only load the BLM sent Davis in 2008, records show. But in 2009 -- a few months after the meetings about the holding crisis and two weeks after Salazar became head of the Interior Department -- the agency started sending him truckload after truckload, from all over the West. Soon he was by far their biggest customer.

Davis bought 560 horses in 2009, another 332 animals in 2010, 599 more in 2011, and 239 in the first four months of 2012, agency records show. While most BLM buyers purchase one or two horses at a time, Davis averages 35 per purchase and has bought up to 240 at a time.

The animals came from the mountains of California and Wyoming, the mesas of Colorado and Utah, and the deserts of Nevada and Oregon. Many had lived for decades in the wild: Mature band stallions and resilient mares of every color descended from the first American horses.

Davis has paid the BLM a total of $17,630 for the animals, far less than BLM has expended to provide them – the agency estimates it costs $1,000 to roundup a wild horse and records show it has paid as much as $5,000 per truckload to ship them to Davis. Similar horses that are not acquired from the BLM and can legally be sold for slaughter fetch $300,000 to $600,000 on the open market, according to sales prices from regional livestock auctions.

Some BLM corral managers said in interviews they felt uneasy shipping so many horses to a single buyer, and one they knew so little about, but said such decisions weren’t up to them.

"That all happens in Washington," one said, echoing the comments of many. "We are just peons. We do what we are told."

Davis said BLM employees occasionally asked where his horses ended up, but said he tells them it’s “none of your damn business.”

"They never question me too hard. It makes 'em look good if they're movin' these horses, see?" he said. "Every horse I take from them saves them a lot of money. I’m doing them a favor. I’m doing the American people a favor."

******

So what happened to the wild horses Davis purchased from the BLM?

The agency can’t say for sure. It does not hold onto the titles of wild horses acquired through its sale program as it does with horses that are adopted. Officials also have no process for following up to make sure buyers use animals as they claim they will in applications.

In the interview at the ranch, Davis said he had found most of the mustangs “good homes” on properties mostly in the southeastern states.  Asked if he would provide records of these sales, he responded, “Ain’t no way in hell.”

A helicopter rounds up horses in the Stone Cabin Valley of Nevada in the winter of 2012. (Dave Philipps)

A helicopter rounds up horses in the Stone Cabin Valley of Nevada in the winter of 2012. (Dave Philipps)

Other people who find homes for rescue horses in the region say they rely heavily on advertising and web sites to connect with buyers. Davis does not appear to do so.

“I’ve never heard of him,” said David Hesse, who runs Mustang and Wild Horse Rescue of Georgia. “If he said he is finding homes for that many old, untamed mustangs, I’m skeptical. The market is deader than dead. I have trouble finding homes for even the ones that are saddle-broken. Wild ones? No way.”

On some sales applications, Davis has said he sells horses to graze on land used for oil and gas drilling in Texas, but oil industry experts contacted for this story said they had never heard of such a practice.

According to brand inspection documents required by Colorado when livestock is sold or shipped more than 75 miles, Davis and his wife say they have sent 765 animals with BLM wild horse brands to a sparsely populated stretch of arid brush country along the Mexico border in Kinney County, Texas. (The records do not give specific addresses where animals were sent, but identify small towns, such as Spofford, as their destination.)

It’s impossible to confirm that the horses actually arrived there or to know where they might have gone next, however, because Texas is one of the few Western states that do not require brand inspections when horses are moved or sold.

Just south of Kinney County is Eagle Pass, a border town that isthe only crossing for horses going to slaughter in Mexico for hundreds of miles.

There have been no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. since 2007, when Congress barred funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture horse meat inspectors. Since then horse slaughter has been outsourced. A 2011 report by the General Accountability Office found the export of horses for slaughter to Mexico shot up 660 percent after the ban.

In Eagle Pass, as at other crossings, slaughter horses are checked by USDA veterinarians. A  USDA spokeswoman refused to make veterinarians available for interviews, but confirmed that vets sometimes see wild horses bearing the BLM brand in slaughter export pens.

Brand documents leave almost 1,000 of Davis’s wild horses unaccounted for. That means they should still be within 75 miles of his residence -- if he has complied with state law.

Asked if this was the case, Davis first said the horses were still on 160 acres of land he leases from the state of Colorado. Then he said some had been shipped out of state without brand inspections, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"Since when is anything in this country done legal?" Davis said in a phone interview.

******

Had BLM officials inquired further about Davis, they might have found reason to question his plans for wild horses.

Davis is a vocal proponent of slaughtering wild horses in the holding system, which he considers a waste of resources. During the interview at his home, he said he would purchase far more horses if the BLM allowed him to resell them to so-called “kill buyers.”

“They are selling me mere hundreds now,” he said. “If they sold me 50,000, I guarantee I could do something with them. I would go to Canada. I would go to Mexico.”

Davis has close friends who export horses for slaughter, including Dennis Chavez, whose family runs one of largest export businesses in the southwest. In 1984, when Davis authored “Be Tough or be Gone,” a self-published book about a horseback ride he took from Mexico to Alaska, he dedicated it to Chavez’s father, Sonny Chavez.

Also, despite the obstacles that impede U.S. horse slaughterhouses, Davis said he has been trying to drum up investors to open a slaughter plant in Colorado.

He said he had approached pet food companies to buy the meat and asked Ken Salazar’s brother, John Salazar, who is the head of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, to help him get a grant to finance the business. John Salazar declined to help Davis, and so far the slaughterhouse venture has not gone forward.

“How can the BLM say with a straight face they are protecting wild horses when they deal with this guy?” said Leigh, of Wild Horse Education.

Animal welfare advocates have raised concerns about Davis’ purchases, but they say federal officials paid little attention.

In late 2010, the BLM rounded up 255 horses in the Adobe Town wild horse area in Wyoming. A local loose knit group of advocates had been photographing the herd for years. After the round-up, group members called BLM officials, looking to adopt a few of the animals, particularly an old stallion they had named Grey Beard.

They were told that the horses had been claimed by an anonymous buyer who planned to resell them to large landowners looking for agricultural tax exemptions. The advocates tried to learn more about the buyer, but Spencer refused to give his name, citing privacy policies.

According to interviews and agency emails, group members told Spencer that anyone buying that many horses at once had to be a kill buyer.

 Sandra Longley, one of the advocates, said in an email to another advocate that Spencer had assured her that the buyer in question had a long relationship with the BLM and was “above reproach.”

A BLM spokesman said Spencer did not recall the conversation.

According to BLM records, most of the horses were sold to Davis.

Warnings from advocates about Davis do not appear to have prompted the BLM to reconsider selling to him.In fact, internal agency email shows that officials actively turned to Davis to absorb freshly rounded-up horses so they wouldn’t end up in the overloaded holding system.

In January, the manager of the agency’s corral in Burns, Ore., emailed superiors in Washington, D.C., to ask what to do with 29 mares, almost all of which were pregnant. Spencer replied that Davis would take them.

In March, a corral manager emailed Spencer to say he had 92 “nice horses” just rounded up in High Rock, Calif., and to ask if Davis could take some of the geldings.

Freshly captured horses in the Stone Cabin Valley of Nevada wait in a BLM corral to be trucked to the holding system. (Dave Philipps)

Freshly captured horses in the Stone Cabin Valley of Nevada wait in a BLM corral to be trucked to the holding system. (Dave Philipps)

A day later Spencer replied, “Davis told me that if the geldings are in good shape he will be able to place them into good homes.”

“How many would Mr. Davis want to buy?” the corral manager asked Spencer. “And are there any specifics that he is looking for?”

“He said he’d be interested in all of them, no specifics,” Spencer replied.  

Spencer said in an interview she is under no pressure to approve buyers with questionable backgrounds and feels confident that “we do not sell to people we feel are going to do bad things to the horses.”

When asked about Davis, she said he had been thoroughly checked out and she had confidence in him. More generally, she said that if there were problems with a buyer, she would know.

“People watch where our horses go and the brands are very distinctive,” she said. “If things were going on, we would get a call.”

Davis’ most recent purchase was in April, when he bought 106 animals. Since then, the agency may have opened an inquiry into what he has done with horses bought from the BLM.  In June, an agency investigator contacted this reporter seeking information about him. This month, however, the BLM assistant special investigator in Santa Fe (the contact supplied by the agency on this matter) said he was "unable to confirm or deny" that the BLM is investigating Davis.

Animal welfare advocates say the agency’s reliance on Davis is just another indication of how the wild horse program and its overburdened holding system have been mismanaged.

“He is just a symptom of the train wreck that is the Wild Horse and Burro program,” said Ginger Kathrens, director of the horse advocacy group The Cloud Foundation, based in Colorado Springs. “They just warehouse more and more horses and create their own crisis. Then, after they run the program into the ground, they have to find ways out of it. It is a whole unnatural ridiculous system run amok. And who pays the ultimate price? Wild horses.”

To contact Dave Philipps about this story, email him at horse@propublica.org.

Two words. Ken Salazar.

5th generation cattleman, and sits nothing but anti wild mustangs and PRO horse slaughter advocates on this BLM Wild Mustang Board. Salazar is as corrupt as it comes and has given card blanche to all ranchers to run rough shod over the top of American taxpayers. If 1000 wild horses are removed, 5000 head of cattle, that ranchers only pay $1.35 cow and calf a MONTH for are put on the exact same land.

Please help us stop Salazar and his cronies from murdering any more of our horses. The BLM has just released their schedule for rounding up several THOUSAND more, in the next several months, so his cronies can have more horses murdered and taxpayers subsides these rogue ranchers way of life some more.

Horsemeat isn’t bad at all, as Davis says. But it sounds from this article that most of it gets shipped to Mexico for slaughter, ground up and probably reexported to the US for yuppies to feed to their dogs. A neat cycle and a necessary one since horses don’t have any real predators to control population and the bleeding hearts can’t handle the thought of massacring mustangs.

Seems to me that Interior had a useful, if illegal wink-and-nod arrangement with Davis until proppublica came along!

James Anaquad Kleinert

Sep. 29, 2012, 11:18 a.m.

To learn more about the plight of America’s Wild Horses and a very powerful documentary film on the subject please visit http://www.wildhorsesandrenegades.com

Ask Madeleine Pickens, T. Bonne’s wife, and her Fdn. Maye Ford and others could chip in for some birth control. And yes, they DO have predators-humans, esp cattlemen grazing for a pittance on federal land, land that was the Mustangs’ long before there was “federal” ownership.

Angela Lloyd-Briggs

Sep. 29, 2012, 12:09 p.m.

This is appauling…I have to say that one of the biggest problems where I live in Canada is they have stopped allowing farmers to severe there land here for small acreages ...if the government would allocate some small properties…for people to buy like myself ...then it would be a lot easier for people to adopt ...also many times have thought about adopting one myself ...but there is no information on the blm website as to how to go about that for people living in canada and I know a lot of people would more than likely like to adopt a blm mustang if the govt made it easier to help bring some across…I know I would…in a minute ...

Davis needs to be prosecuted

You might want to go to Madeleine Pickens’ website for more guidance. That fdn seems to be the most well-connected. Also, indiv rescue groups, know a lot about the subject Angela discussed regarding zoning issues. The smaller rescuers I know, and the info I teach in Animal Law Seminars, might be regarding NY and local law but these various sources can point you in the right direction if you can not get someone closer. And no, I don’t eat meat but I do give fish to my dogs, all rescued, BTW, including one from a puppy mill, one from a gassing shelter, and two from owners who beat and starved them. In one case, my dog was one of the last two alive, found cuddling their Mom and 4 dead puppies…first time I violated my rule on keeping fosters (or else I would have 100 dogs and be on a hoarding show). The other pup we rehabbed and got her a lovely home.

Kathy Leonard

Sep. 29, 2012, 1:23 p.m.

If this information is true, the BLM has committed Fraud.  These mustangs, like it or not, are government property once captured.  Given that there is a set rule and requirement in place for the sale of these mustangs, knowingly skirting the rules so this guy can make a huge profit off of them selling them into slaughter, is fraud and the illegal sale and handling of government property.  Given the fact that he lives near Ken Salazar is beyond coincidence and I think an investigation should be launched.  Salazar should resign, if not be prosecuted along with Davis for fraud and misuse of government property.

Lisa Griffith

Sep. 29, 2012, 1:35 p.m.

Jack Brown, horses in the wild have no predators? Why is that? Perhaps because the BLM has spend hundreds of millions of dollars sanitizing the land for cattle and other livestock grazing?

The author of this article does a very, good job (thank you Dave Philipps) of pointing out the problems with the BLM’s wild horse management program, in particular it notes that of the few thousand horses (mares) scheduled for administered reproductive control, less than half that were actually inoculated. In fact, the recent Desatoya roundup was called without any mares treated. The contractor rounded up over 100 the last day, but said they couldn’t find any the next day to catch, treat and release. How do you go from rounding up over 100 on one day to none the next unless you never really wanted to bother.

John Turner notes that the BLM is mired in the old way of roundup, gather and seems incapable of anything else. I couldn’t agree more. And currently, the BLM is leaderless with Bob Abbey’s resignation and few, if any, of the meager reforms he tried to implement will actually move forward. It’s a mess.

Dave you are articulate, intelligent and can see a big story yet not lose sight of the holes in it. I told you that the more you look at this program the more questions you will have…
Thank you for taking the information, following it down to the finite detail and crafting such a comprehensive piece. BRAVO!
http://WildHorseEducation.org

What a laugh that they visit adopters and check on horses! That is a good one.  I am sure if you checked on Tom Davis’ horses a week or two after purchase , they would be ” gone”.

Elyse Gardner

Sep. 29, 2012, 2:22 p.m.

Fabulous work, Dave Philipps; thank you very much.  Please keep following this; I suspect it gets bigger and more grim.

We need a legislative change.  Postulating that these horses all went to slaughter, while it is reprehensible and proves BLM has been lying to our faces, it is not illegal. 

Please let’s pressure our congresspeople and senators for

(1) the long overdue congressional investigation into BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program, and
(2) legislative changes needed to
    (A) abolish the “sale authority” provision allowing BLM to sell “without limitation” the age 10-plus wild horses or younger horses still in the system after being offered 3 times for adoption
    (B) To stop transport of American horses across the border to slaughter in Mexico (a horse’s worst nightmare) or Canada;
    (C) make horse slaughter in America illegal quickly since it has just been re-legalized and people like Tom Davis are gearing up to start it going.

For a tad bit more background, I have done a blog post on this at http://humaneobserver.blogspot.com/2012/09/nowhere-to-hide-calling-for.html

Dave, thank you again!

I have sent Dave Phillips this letter with the provided email address.
I have just read a disturbing report on the hundreds of wild horse you have bought over the years. I don’t understand why you can’t produce papers for all the horses that you have found homes for.  From the comments I read that you made about horses, you sound like an advocate for horse slaughter. How disgusting. I for one hope the U.S. government looks into your practices. I will be one who writes to the appropriate government officers. You have signed a contract that specifically states that this is illegal. I assume money from the sale of horses to be slaughtered is more important than your morals. Which obviously you lack. You and your kind sicken me. So far you have gotten off of charges.  You haven’t been looked into fully by the right parties so it can’t be verified. Hopefully, soon that will change. God help us we will get rid of you and your kind from the slaughter of horses.
Watching, Judy Maxwell

Sent from my iPad

I pay taxes for Federal Lands—for Federally Protected Wild Horses and burros to live on. Now BLM is selling these horses to Davis?  their “main buyer”—for what purpose? I figure BLM is running it’s own “ship to slaughter ” business out of those holding pens and LTH farms.Yeah BLM—where are those 1700 horses? BLM should NOT be in the wild horse management business. Remember what they said “There is no law we won’t break; no right we will not violate to make a profit”. We—and the horses—don’t need foreign terrorists—we’ve got BLM ! Thank you Dave Phillips—and advocates.

Ernie Beckley

Sep. 29, 2012, 7:03 p.m.

Ok, I’ll give you that Davis is breaking the law.  If the BLM doesn’t sell to him, what do you all think should be done with these horses?  If left alone, they will die of starvation.  No one wants them.  Everyone is so quick to lynch Davis (because everyone is entitled to an opinion), but no one comes to the debate with a solution, or even an original idea.  Complaining is fine, but if you’re really concerned, write your Congressman and tell him/her what you think ought to be done with these animals.

Stephanie Graham

Sep. 29, 2012, 7:42 p.m.

THANK YOU Dave Philipps for delivering this story to the public! We have suspected for some time our wild horses were being shipped in large quantities to be slaughter while the BLM turns a blind “I don’t want to know” eye on the situation. We need the facts and the more information the better. Now for anyone saying people are complaining but not doing anything, think again! Hundreds of advocates call, fax, write, email, tweet, FB and more on a DAILY basis to their House Reps., Senators, Congressmen and women, the BLM, the President, and many more. We are busting our butts for them to pay attention, listen to our SOLUTIONS. However fracking, mining, drilling, and laying pipelines not too mention grazing for thousands of cattle all take the number one spot on the wild range. It is hard battle, and we are ALL part of the problem, especially if you eat beef, drive a car or type on a computer. All those things take wild horses off the range to make way for “progress”. Time to take a stand and we can do it together for a better future.

Stanley A Bourdon

Sep. 29, 2012, 7:55 p.m.

The american wild horse is a falicy. the modern horse in america was introduced by the spanish. It is a forigin invader, just like the Zebra muscle It is my opinion that the “wild horse” should be eliminated and the geassland returned to native grazers like Bison and Elk.

David Philipps’  investigation of the underground railroad to slaughter is masterful. I’ve researched fiction and non-fiction about the West’s wild places and wild horses for over 20 years and I know when a reporter’s done some digging.
I’ve adopted wild horses and purchased a sale authority mare (for hundreds of dollars, not 10). I’ve seen lush lands the same week BLM declared them arid, to justify round-ups, viewed “horse damaged” riparian areas marked with split hooves of cattle, and had a staffer show me a wildfire burn as evidence of mustang over-population. Fed-science, as presented to the public, can be pretty shaky.
Philipps exposed BLM ‘s coziness with kill-buyers, making it clear BLM is repeating the pattern they use with helicopter contractors. For plausible deniability, they keep a one-layer buffer between the Bureau and bloodshed.  Thanks for the great work.

Great article.

Wild horses are native fauna and deserve to be protected. New ranges should be opened up to replace the ones they lost after the 1970’s law was passed that made it illegal to harm them.

There should be an investigation of Davis, as well as a close scrutiny of his connections to Salazar since this may have facilitated his large purchases of mustangs without an adequate follow up by the BLM.

In the 60’s and the 70’s, Wild Horse Annie got American children excited about wild mustangs. With their help, she led a campaign to protect them, which finally brought about the 1970’s law. It’s been a battle since to protect this national treasure. There will always be people who want to use these horses and throw them away. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Diane E. Cohan

Sep. 29, 2012, 10:38 p.m.

So who does the oversight on these jerks that are obviously taking advantage of a system that is clearly being taken advantage of?  Davis & Salazar sure as hell need to be investigated…as well as the BLM..who is purposely turning a blind eye to what’s going on.
    It’s the same for the puppy mills & cock fighting jerks.  We make tons of complaints to Animal Control, give them names & addresses..& they turn a blind eye also..because they don’t know what to do with the poor animals.

Sherrie Tournour

Sep. 29, 2012, 11:48 p.m.

That photograph of the Grey, running from the helicopter. Made me cry.

There’s got to be a better way. BLM, is this all you’ve got? What is wrong with you?

“Driven by the cost of caring for unwanted wild horses, the annual price tag of the program has ballooned from $16 million in 1989 to $76 million today.”

So, how many poverty stricken folks could we be feeding and providing health care for with that amount of money? Horses are wonderful critters but this seems to epitomize misplaced values. How many wild horses do we need anyway? And, if they’re in holding pens, they’re no longer really wild, are they?

Tom Davis:  “I love wild horses to death. It’s like an addiction. For some it’s drugs, for me it’s horses.”

Love them to DEATH you say?  Hmmmmmmm. Based on all the quotes, Davis seems to speak with a forked tongue. We can trust him to say whatever is convenient at the moment, and to do whatever he can to turn a quick profit, the law be damned.

If the BLM were really interested in knowing where some of these horses they sell go, they could implant a few with satellite telemetry tags and track them, just as wildlife researchers do. But then they’d have to follow up on the results. But perhaps they’d rather not know, because then they’d have to deal with inconvenient truths. Better to hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, arrest no people.

“In 1971, Congress stepped in to save the remaining herds, passing a law that declared wild horses ‘living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West’ and made it a crime for anyone to harass or kill wild horses on most federal land. The law tasked the departments of Interior and Agriculture with protecting the animals still roaming the range.”

Therein lies the real problem. Horses are saved and people tell lies because Congress passed a law that works too well in some ways and not well at all in other ways. Seems as though Congress should modify the law to help rectify the situation. Trouble is, Congress can’t seem to accomplish much anymore. Meanwhile, people and horses suffer the consequences. Oh, and some folks make a bunch of money off the tax payers.

We own a home in New Mexico nearly abutting the government land where the wild horses dot the landscape. With the economic crisis and knowledge of the abandoned domestic horses in rescues or worse left to starve I have suggested that the wild stallions be rounded up and gelded. To me this is an easier fix to the population control than rounding up, housing, and auctioning. But to keep on the topic of this article I am appalled to read that this happening. I have donated money to this project and am outraged that my donations went to support the slaughter.

Dear Dave, Good article on the wild horses of the USA. There is no doubt Davis is selling horses for slaughter. The BLM knows this and turns the other cheek. In a recent documentary, two salient points emerged that you did not mention. 1: the BLM is clearing wild herds for the ultimate sole purpose of leasing publicly owned lands to oil and gas concerns for drilling and fracking. The first stage of this is purported to be for open range grazing rights for cattle farmers and also for gun and meat enthusiasts for hunting elk, deer etc. Then, after a decade, these grazing/hunting lands are turned over to private energy companies of which profits the general American public will never see. 2: the wild mustangs share DNA with pre colonial horses that came over the Bering strait not the horses the spaniards brought.  This fact means these horses have a wild and free birthright here long before Europeans came. The reason they are being eradicated is because they are considered worthless in a society that does not eat horse meat and hence had no market value. I personally value them for their wild beauty and view them much as I view other wildlife that we don’t consume. BTW, the actual total numbers of surviving mustangs not in captivity is likely much lower than you cite. Good article!  Dianne Appel, Taos NM

Many of our wild horses, wolves, & more are being exterminated, by, the BLM Ken Salazar.  I’ve sent many e mails to the fish & wild life, President Obama, about taking the “care taking ” job away from the BLM because of what they are doing.  The expense to the taxpayer for the helicopters alone is horrendous, but the wild life needs to be in the wild !!  Another group needs to be in charge of our wild life, not the government officials.  I have heard that the reason for this is that there will be big machinery on the “range” TO EXTRACT resources of the ground, in the Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, areas.  At the rate that this is happening I feel bad for Mother Earth, that some are so greedy they will do anything to deplete all resources out of the ground.  Since water is the next big issue, some of the procedures take tons of water to get resources out of the ground,&  fracking for one takes an enormous amount of water.  Thus, the horses are being removed for this reason.
Keep sending letters, e mails, phone calls to all the gov officials to express your thoughts & objections to the round ups, & slaughter of our wild mustangs,  & other horses.  If 80% of the people would quit eating beef, the cattlemen would be in a fix, & the land they so badly want wouldn’t be needed. 
Madeleine Pickens is great & she loves horses & has the money to buy 1000’s of acres to keep the wild horses safe, & wild.  If enough people had meetings to figure ways to stop the massacre & thought of ways to let the government know this practice is no longer acceptable.

Caryn, I agree with you on the points relating to use of public lands to rape our earth. If energy is our goal, horses and other wild herds can certainly graze around and beneath solar arrays and wind turbines. Dianne.

President Obama’s White House hotline: 202-456-1111. Call on this issue. After he is reelected, he will have time to address this issue and I do believe he will try to help.

Has anyone started a petition on Change.org to put public pressure on the BLM to enforce their laws and stop turning a blind eye? And to start gelding the males, which is a lot faster, easier and cheaper? What a horrible nightmare this is.

Dianne Appel,
You would think that would be the case, but “they” don’t want any interference from animals on the equipment they plan to install, & perhaps after they get through messing up the land, there won’t be enough grass, hay, for the animals.

Keep up to date on horse slaughterhouse activities by creating a Google News Alert for “Unified Equine”, the soothing sobriquet of Sue Wallis’s growing firm.  Retired racing horses, are apparently the primary source of “meat”.  As I understand it, wild horses are seen as more desirable, because they haven’t been treated by drugs restricted under legislation in Japan (the largest market for horse meat) which takes effect in June 2013.

He should sent to the same place where the horses go.

Please use this link to read how other advocates are reacting to this article:

http://rtfitchauthor.com/2012/09/29/money-ego-and-the-failure-to-save-wild-horses-and-burros/

Personally, I believe Washington is well aware of what is happening.  I also believe that there is an agenda by the current administration to utilize all the resources the US has control over to produce energy.  Not only does fracking damage the earth, but it also makes the water toxic.  They are literally removing mountains in West Virginia using this process and I believe that it will spread across public lands in the West.  Between the cattle ranchers and the mining and energy companies, I actually believe the government has written off the mustangs as a priority despite the laws in place.  Sadly, instead of having the BLM controlling these mustangs with their roundups, a fertilization program should have been used long ago before the BLM stockpiled all these horses that even in good times, produced very few adopters.  These horses should have been managed by a wild life organization, not the BLM.  Now that hay and grain has skyrocketed in price and people in general are in trouble with this economy, this situation has become dire. I also believe the BLM might be using backdoor methods to eliminate the mustangs and are doing so under the radar of the law.  As with most government agencies, things don’t happen until the crisis is on the horizon.  Look at what happened during 9/11/2001…agencies of our government knew who the terrorists were long before that terrible day and the information was available, but they didn’t share it with other agencies within the government.  Only after the event, did it become clear that had this information been shared and acted on, we might have been able to prevent what happened.  Now, practices are in place to prevent more acts, but look at what it took to bring this about.  I also believe that this reality has created a 9/11 for the mustangs.  The Mustang Monument (which could be called the Mustang Zoo) is just part of the process.  Mustangs are sought out because of horse meat regulations now imposed on the Canadian/Mexican slaughterhouses that will prevent them from using drug-ridden racehorses and drug-treated family pet horses from the European and Chinese horsemeat-eating markets.  I have also read that PETA has also recommended that slaughter be allowed in the US rather than subjecting these horses to horrible conditions of being starved, mistreated and stuffed into transport trucks for days to be delivered to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses.  I hate to be a pessimist, but I would rather see a humane euthanasia of these poor creatures in stockpile pens than subjecting them to the horrific torture of a slaughterhouse.  At that point, stop the BLM from rounding up more families and have a REAL wildlife agency maintain the remaining wild herds with a fertization program that reduces, but does not eliminate the remaining wild mustang population.

I guess Tom Davis thinks we all live in a pumpkin patch!  I wonder what his bank account looks like?  This has been going on too long.  Kenny Salazar and his croonies are using our Federal land to pasture their cattle and the wild horses supposedly get in their way.  Can I pay $1.25 per month and sponsor a wild mustang to graze on our Federal Land…..I bet not.  It’s all about the Cattlemen’s Association and big money.  What happen to We the people for the people?

Let’s cut the crap.  Certain people want to perpetuate this problem because $8M is flowing into their bank accounts from it.

The solution is simple and doable if all the rescuers and activists would get behind it: fix the animals, starting with the males.  $8M will fix a lot of horses.  Let’s get behind this simple solution and stop the suffering.

Great article.  All outraged readers that are engaged-Please contact John Salazar at the CO. Dept. of Agriculture (google for all info).  Additionally, contact the Dept of Justice for a full investigation into Sally Spencer with the BLM and her/their relationship with Tom Davis.
Good organization in South Dakota: Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary—check it out, trust me!
Full exposure and accountability are the only options.

Iris Davidson

Sep. 30, 2012, 2:21 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Philipps for this article AND thank you for being a VOICE for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Hopefully, Ken Salazar will be replaced with a compassionate caring individual.

It costs almost nothing to micochip a wild horse as they move them onto a trailer. People do it with their dogs and cats in a few minutes. Why are not the horses sold to Davis microchipped so they know where they go? Why are the wild horse protection groups not over flying his ranch with cheap drones or following his trucks to their deliver points?

Many protection groups for other causes have ended the abuse by following the trucks. Protection groups: please follow the trucks!

Claudia Rosenfeldt Zwick

Sep. 30, 2012, 2:42 p.m.

What about starting a petition to end this
horrific abuse?

Services such as:

http://www.animalgenetics.us/Equine.htm


http://www.apha.com/

Can pull a DNA test on each horse and you can find that horse again, even if it turns up in a McDonalds Hamburger.

Stop the people that buy horse meat too…

Nathen Culbraeth

Sep. 30, 2012, 3:27 p.m.

OK all you bleeding hearts .Please stop using my tax money to feed these horses and to hold them in a holding area and paying someone to feed them doctor them and house them . I don’t want pay for a micro chip or anything .The man is doing us a favor shut up about it . Also my dad has around 22 of these grass eating hay burning medicne taking money pit of an animal .

Christie Finn

Sep. 30, 2012, 4:14 p.m.

Very informative, but it is prosecutable?

The Bureau of Land Management has refused to use proper population control measures because it wants to be able to sell our wild horses for slaughter and make a profit.  This sounds so much like Vicki Tobin’s White Paper Report from 1997.

There is absolutely, positively no excuse for tax payers to continue to fund this incompetent, cruel, and blood thirsty agency.

If these employees don’t do treat and release, then let us insist that they be released from their federal position.  This is totally untenable.  The BLM has created this mess.  I suggest that the next truckload of mammals you sell for $10.00 a head be filled with BLMers.  Don’t panic.  I am sure you’ll get turned away at the plant.  Maybe they’lturn you lose like they do the horses they reject. 

Fraud.  Abuse of Power.  Overreach of Power, Breaking of federal law.  l

Debera Mansfield

Sep. 30, 2012, 5:08 p.m.

How could you report this article knowing there was an undercover investigation. That is irresponsible reporting in my opinion and many advocats who have been fighting this battle for years.

The Sacramento Bee has run stories on this. It is the local cattle ranchers in California that are most against this. They have testified that the ranges where they graze their animals are not in any way affected by the wild horse and burrow population and think they should be left alone.

To all the EXPERIENCED advocates:

I am very confused.  Which is it irresponsible reporting or masterful investigation?  I have now heard it both ways from people who I thought were (and should be) working together.  I know where the BLM stands but I am not sure anymore about the people who are helping the mustangs.

Alan J. Kania

Sep. 30, 2012, 8:10 p.m.

After working with Mrs. Velma B. “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston during the last seven years of her life and reading the feature story in Sunday’s Denver Post, I’m not surprised that things have not changed during the past 35 years since Annie’s passing in 1977.
  Mrs. Johnston began her campaign to (1) protect the wild horses (and burros) from airborne and mechanized roundups that resulted in the horses being sent in large numbers of the slaughterhouses throughout the American West, Canada and Mexico; (2) manage the public rangelands on a multiple-use basis where ranchers, hunters, energy developers, wild horse/burro enthusiasts can share the public lands and (3) control population numbers so that neither livestock, wild horses/burros, nor game animals will ever increase to levels that exceed the forage capacity of public land range habitat.
  Wild Horse Annie challenged the effectiveness of the Bureau of Land Management’s responsibility for overseeing the implementation of both the 1959 Wild Horse Annie Act and the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act that were passed on behalf of Mrs. Johnston’s 27-year campaign.
  When the wholesale slaughter of wild horses brought the population down to an estimated 17,500 wild horses and considerably fewer wild burros, Annie proposed that it was time for the BLM to initiate a management plan for both wild horses and livestock to determine what was necessary to maintain proper range management. This would require an objective review of the livestock allotment system on public lands. It would require studies of wild horse and burro behavior, breeding, nutrition and other components upon which good multiple-use range management can be developed.
  This did not happen.
  The studies recommended by the National Academy of Sciences were ignored by the BLM. The chance to evaluate the source of the wild horses through the evaluation of grazing permits, consistent census counting parameters, and an evaluation of branded and unbranded horses passed through the network of state brand inspectors, were ignored by the BLM.
  BLM Director Robert Burford gutted the proven adoption program initiated by Wild Horse Annie while BLM administrator Kay Wilkes in 1975, trumped up an arbitrary breeding rate of 20% to 25% by the BLM. These are figures that no commercial breeding ranch could ever achieve under favorably controlled circumstances.
  The “Adopt-a-Horse/Burro” program was poorly marketed once the BLM took over the program from Wild Horse Annie in the mid-1970s.  The roundup of “excess” wild horses was never effectively coordinated with a marketing program to move the animals into private ownership. As a result, a back-log of tens of thousands of wild horses and burros have been warehoused at tax-payer expense.
  When we write the history of the wild horses and burros that contributed so much to the development of the American West, will we look at the wild horses without taking the impact of the livestock industry on the public lands and the biases inherent in the political administration of federal wild horse and burro program?
  Will we look at the errors of the past, the political wrangling to protect territorial positions, or the potential value in the development of a vast heritage composed of all of these entities?
  It’s no surprise that Wild Horse Annie’s campaign to manage, protect, and control the wild horses as components of western heritage – has become corrupted as another component of the commercial exploitation of the public lands at the expense of the public tax-payers.


Alan J. Kania is the author of Wild Horse Annie: Velma Johnston and Her Fight to Save the Mustang published September 28, 2012 by the University Press of Nevada. Following the death of Wild Horse Annie, he served on the board of directors of one of Wild Horse Annie’s organizations, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros.

He lives in Parker, Colorado with his wife. Their wedding carriage was drawn by Alan’s adopted-and-trained wild horse 25 years ago.

It is such a shame that our federal government agencies, the BLM (USDI) and the USFS (USDA) that are charged with protecting, preserving and managing the wild horses and aburros under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, are governed by persons who negatively portray and undermine the wild equids. In fact these officials, starting at the top with the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture have consistently connived together with many of the lower officials to zero out the herds from their legal areas. Failing this they reduce them to such low population levels that they risk inbreeding and chance die out. The act says they are to be left to integrate with the natural ecosystem and to be minimally interferred with, and that they are to receive the principal share of the resources.  The BLM and the USFS are doing all the opposite of this and contrary to the law. As a wildlife ecologist I have proposed and described in some detail a solution to this terrible miscarriage of justice and in benefit of both the wild equids and the general public of the United States. This is a caring way to achieve naturally self-stabilizing populations within viable habitats. Please get a hold of my book and read it. It is entitled The Wild Horse Conspiracy. Then get back to me and let’s work together to honor these wonderful animals and left them have the freedom and the land they deserve. They have done so much for us, now it is time we do something great for them. Paradoxically in so doing we will be saving both life on Earth and our own true and worthy human life here, by learning to share, by learning to do something good for other kinds ... The animals contributed so muchy that is truly positive here on planet Earth.  The present situation is crucial test for us, indeed! May God help us all to do what is right!

Thank you Alan Kania! I will buy your book!

It is my view that there is something fishy here and from all I have read since this piece appeared. There were people investigating this man and then Mr. Phillips published this and may have ruined all their work and put them in harm’s way with bad timing. There are others also claiming to have helped Mr. Phillips but it seems unlikely. One of them did tell him the Sally Spencer story about the reputable repeat buyer. But there is no way advocates were ever fooled by Sally Spencer who, indeed, needs to lose her job. I think this Davis got his way because he is friends with the Salazar family. So Secretary Salazar or Colorado Ag Dept. Salazar, or Both! should also lose their jobs.

Why on earth did Madeleine Pickens send this article out to her mailing list with the photos and graphics removed? It was most unprofessional and unlike Madeleine. We have some very interesting characters here besides Davis. We have Madeleine Pickens, Laura Leigh and this Mr. Phillips who was the one who researched and then interviewed Davis. It is quite the interview, too! Everything else seems par for the course and I have to also wonder why Phillips used BLM figures? Just like all the press who do Not dig far enough do. Why didn’t his friend Laura Leigh correct his BLM math for him if she spent 6 months helping him do this little piece. This article has FOIA’d info and an interview. How simple can that be? Why would he need anyone’s help? He did the right things. 

What is Mr. Phillips relationship to Madeleine and what is hers to ProPublica? Just thoughts to ponder. And after Laura Leigh put down the possible destruction of the 3 HMAs adjacent to Spruce Ranch what is her current relationship to Madeleine? MAdeleine is basically pro BLM and wants to be a contractor for them. Of course she wants it her way and BLM wants it their way. Will they ever make up their minds? Or do we just have magic rabbits coming out of hats and something else is afoot? I would not trust a one of these people in the present wild horse climate. Everyone seems to be out for themselves and not for the wild ones. 

And who is Mr. Phillips? New kids on the block need to show a little bit of bio in this business. This is the tip of an ice burg so do not be so taken yet. Davis has basically admitted his guilt has no proof offered against him by Phillips except the interview because the other researchers work was interrupted by his untimely release. 

What we have here is failure to communicate. Good show. Maybe someone will still be able to salvage this unfinished investigation and present proof of guilt on Davis. Maybe we will also find out what these people were really after out there on the ranges of Nevada?

I am a former equine cruelty investigator for the US Equine Rescue League of NC and certified compliance checker for BLM mustangs and burros. Also headed up campaign in Texas in the 90’s to ban horse tripping in Mexican rodeos or charreadas during which time I learned of BLM employees selling wild horses to slaughter for personal profit.  I want to thank you for this revealing story that needs to be made available to mainstream/cable media as this information clearly shows that the BLM is reverting back to its old corruption practices of the 80’s and early 90’s of selling America’s mustangs to slaughter to line their own pockets. The village idiot could read your article and put two and two together that Ken Salazar is in bed with the likes of Tom Davis in order to systematically channel horses to slaughter in Mexico. When Tom Davis says he loves wild horses to death, he ain’t kiddin’! Let’s see….he purchased 1700 head of horses from the BLM for $10 a head and sold some to Mexican movie makers and some are in holding near El Paso, TX where horses bound for slaughter in Mexico are checked over before crossing the border. Something of a red flag, huh? Just do the math…...1700 horses purchased for approximately $17,000 then possibly resold , say an average of 500 lbs per horse at 20 cents a lb comes to a tidy $170,000 which is no shabby profit. The question is how many BLM fingers are in this pie? The 50,000 head of wild horses currently in holding facilities represent a slaughter value of at the very least $5,000,000. The Obama administration has been bombarded with emails and calls for the past 4 years calling for a moratorium on the brutal roundups of wild horses on public lands and the resignation of Ken Salazar, an avowed cattleman that hates the mustangs. So far public outcry has fallen on deaf ears even with expose’s of the BLM’s treatment of the horses on a variety of news shows and YouTube videos. Maybe Romney’s campaign might find this information tasty fodder for attacking Obama for corruption in the Department of the Interior. Ann Romney is a well-known horse owner/enthusiast that might want to take up this cause as well. Hmmmm!

Davis said he had found most of the mustangs “good homes” on properties mostly in the southeastern states.

Well, now…that’s either true, or Davis is what you call a varmint.

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