Lawsuit claims policy will increase wild horse slaughter

Wild horses are viewed on BLM-managed rangeland in southeast Oregon in this file photo. The U.S. Forest Service has built a corral in California that could allow it to bypass federal restrictions and lead to the slaughter of wild horses.

An animal advocacy group has filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of subverting a federal prohibition against selling wild horses for slaughter.

Friends of Animals, a nonprofit, claims the agency’s 2018 guidance for the sale of wild horses and burros weakens protections for the animals in violation of administrative law.

The complaint alleges the new policy “seems to suggest that BLM employees should turn a blind eye towards buyers who want wild horses for resale to slaughter houses.”

The BLM does not comment on pending litigation, but the new guidance is simply intended to ease the process of selling horses to partners like the Mustang Heritage Foundation, which train multiple horses for later adoption, said Debbie Collins, outreach specialist for the agency’s wild horse and burro program.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke does not support the sale for slaughter of healthy wild horses or burros and buyers must attest the animals aren’t intended for this outcome, she said.

“There’s been nothing changed to direct anyone to do less review of applications,” Collins said.

While the removal and destruction of excess wild horses is technically allowed under federal law, Congress has precluded the BLM from spending any money on having them killed “for processing into commercial products.”

BLM has adopted policies meant to discourage wild horses being bought for slaughter, such as a limit of four horses per purchase without prior approval.

Buyers must also describe where and how they’d care for horses and are tracked to ensure they didn’t purchase animals from multiple holding facilities.

According to Friends of Animals, however, past investigations have showed BLM failing to enforce these protective policies, effectively allowing wild horses to be sold for slaughter.

In a report to Congress earlier this year, the agency also proposed lifting restrictions on sales, allowing for more euthanasia and easing regulations for roundups to alleviate overpopulation in certain areas.

Though Congress hasn’t acted on these requests, the plaintiff claims BLM has enacted a new guidance this year that effectively expedites the process for selling horses.

Under the policy, horses still can’t be sold unless they’re more than 10 years old or they have been passed over for adoption three times.

However, the agency has now mandated that adoption offers begin within a certain amount of time and calls for monthly adoption events at holding facilities, which “will accelerate the time it takes to make horses and burros sale-eligible,” the complaint said.

The guidance allows as many as 25 horses to be sold without prior authorization, up from the previous four, according to the lawsuit.

“They’re taking a lot of the safeguards away,” said Michael Harris, attorney for Friends of Animals.

When a wild horse is adopted, the federal government retains title to the animal for the year and can follow up to ensure it’s found a good home, he said.

With a sale, on the other hand, the title transfers directly to the buyer, which makes additional scrutiny necessary, Harris said.

Changes to BLM’s sale guidance have violated administrative law because they were made without public notice and comment, weren’t backed up with a reasoned explanation and effectively spend federal money allowing horses to be slaughtered, the complaint said.

The lawsuit requests that a federal judge overturn the BLM’s 2018 guidance and stop any more horses from being sold under the policy.

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