BLM’s New Sale Policy Sets Up “Excess” Wild Horses and Burros for Slaughter

Will the federal government join the U.S. quarter horse industry as one of the top suppliers of American horses to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada? It could be well on its way, thanks to a new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policy that allows the sale of up to 25 federally protected wild horses and/or burros at a time without special approval.

The new policy, implemented via an Internal Memorandum (IM) dated May 24, 2018 (but not publicly discovered until July), rolls back an Obama Administration policy limiting sales to no more than four horses/burros per buyer without written authorization from the Assistant Director of the BLM. That policy was implemented in 2013, after the BLM was exposed for selling nearly 2,000 wild horses to a known kill buyer, Tom Davis, who, in turn, sold the horses for slaughter in Mexico. It was designed to prevent federally protected wild horses and burros from entering the slaughter pipeline.

The new policy does more than up the limit of horses/and burros an individual buyer can purchase at one time; it also eliminates any restrictions on the frequency at which such large purchases can be made as well as the requirement that the buyer describe the conditions under which the horses will be held, and it authorizes the purchase of horses by corporations as well as individuals and organizations.

It’s the latest assault on America’s wild herds by an Interior Department, led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, that has twice asked Congress for permission to kill and slaughter federally protected wild horses and burros on a mass scale – both in holding facilities and on the range. Failing in the bid to legalize slaughter, the agency is now pushing the boundaries of law to empty the holding pens and clear space for the nearly 10,000 wild horses and burros it will remove from their homes on the range this year.


The policy in question applies to so-called “sale authority” horses and burros – those over the age of 10 or those who have not been adopted after three tries (“three strikes” horses).  Thanks to the 2004 Burns Amendment, these horses and burros can be sold “without restriction” for $10- $25 each.

Each year, Congress passes appropriations language that prohibits sale authority horses from being sold for slaughter. As a result, purchasers of sale authority horses must sign a statement saying that they will not “knowingly” sell the horse to slaughter or sell the horse to anyone who intends to sell the horse to slaughter. The “knowingly” loophole means that horses can and do just change hands to enter the slaughter pipeline. This is why the 2014 rule was put in place – to minimize the chances that sale authority horses and burros would be sold for slaughter.

To some degree, it worked. Another massive and notorious sale like the Tom Davis deal hasn’t occurred – or at least hasn’t been reported.  But, over the past few years, the number of wild horses and burros the BLM has sold “without limitations” has steadily crept up, from 87 in FY2014 to 582 in FY2017, for a total of 1,148 animals. 

Ironically, although the BLM’s website still emphasizes that the agency’s policy is “not to sell or send any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to ‘kill buyers’” (indeed that is the law), this newest IM is a gigantic turn away from the safeguards that ensure the legal ban on slaughter is upheld.


The first sections of the two IMs clearly reveal the BLM’s new direction – and the dire consequences for America’s iconic animals.  While the 2014 IM states that it’s providing “guidance on selling animals to individuals and organizations that will provide good homes and humane care,” the 2018 IM states that it’s providing “guidance relating to the sale of excess animals to individuals, companies and organizations.”  (Emphasis added)

Absent in the 2018 IM is the intent to find good homes and humane care for wild horses and burros.  Instead it characterizes these cherished animals as “excess” and allows their sale not only to individuals and organizations, but also to “companies.”  This begs an obvious question: exactly who will be buying older, unadoptable, wild, untamed horses and burros by the truckload under this new policy?

But there’s more.  The 2018 IM also provides the specific mechanisms for increasing the number of “sales authority” horses and burros, creating a steady supply of them thanks to significant changes in the agency’s adoption practices.

First, while still maintaining the policy that horses and burros younger than 10 years old become eligible for sale after being passed over for adoption three times, the BLM is now setting a time limit for when those adoptions are to begin – 6 months from the date of the issuance of this new IM or the animal’s preparation date.

Second, in the past, adoptions at BLM-managed corrals that are open to the public have either been nonexistent or extremely limited.   The 2018 IM now states that all of these facilities should hold monthly adoptions.

Third is the requirement for the number of days for an internet adoption event hosted on a facility’s website.  In the 2014 IM, it’s a minimum of 7 continuous days.  In the 2018 IM, there’s no minimum number of days. However, 2018 IM still clarifies that “each event will count as one adoption opportunity (strike), regardless of how many days the event last.”

Although offering monthly adoptions at the corrals may lead to a few more adoptions, taken together, the changes will accelerate the time it takes to make horses and burros sale-eligible, creating tens of thousands of more wild horses and burros that will be offered for sale, up to 25 at a time, for $10-25 a piece.

To be clear, the 2014 IM was far from perfect, but 2018 IM is bad, really bad, for wild horses and burros.  Besides opening the corrals for the unfettered sales of large numbers of these animals, it also eliminates many basic protections provided to them in the 2014 IM before they left the holding corrals.

Here are the most egregious omissions:

  • Facility managers looking up the buyer’s name in Wild Horse and Burro Program System to determine if there are any documented notes – before they sell an animal.

In the 2014 IM, facility managers were required to look up the names of the buyers and notify the Washington Office Wild Horse and Burro Sales Program Lead when they found evidence that the buyer will not provide a good home. Then, other facility managers would be advised of the situation and would prevent the buyer from shopping from facility to facility. The 2018 IM eliminates this requirement.

  • The BLM inspecting trailer and having the right to refuse loading the horses or burros if it cannot ensure the safe and humane transport of the animals.

This requirement for inspection and right to refuse loading of horses has been removed from the 2018 IM.

With the implementation of the 2018 IM, the BLM has truly abandoned its federally-mandated responsibility for preserving and protecting America’s wild horses and burros. By resuming sales of wild horses by the truckload, the BLM is reversing safeguards against slaughter implemented by the previous administration, and making it far more likely that these iconic and cherished animals will end up in the slaughter pipeline over the objections of 80 percent of Americans.

It’s part of an all-out assault on wild horses and burros by an Administration that has twice asked Congress for permission to kill and slaughter as many as 100,000 of these national icons. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, BLM’s boss, may have ridden a horse to his first day of work, but he has since galloped down a path to destruction for America’s wild horse and burro herds.