By Scott Streater, E&E News
May 27, 2021
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is joining advocacy groups in calling on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to investigate recent claims that some animals in a wild horse and burro adoption program have ended up at auctions where they could have been sold for slaughter.
Feinstein, in a letter sent today to Haaland, wrote that she has "great concern" over evidence outlined in a recent story by The New York Times that found potentially "truckloads" of adopted wild horses have been sent to auctions attended by known buyers for slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
The American Wild Horse Campaign last week submitted a detailed report to Haaland outlining the results of an investigation in which it and three other horse advocacy groups documented that at least 79 wild horses and one burro removed from federal rangelands ended up at these auctions in the past year (Greenwire, May 20).
The report also included documented evidence that at least 18 of the 79 wild horses at auction were animals that had been adopted in the past two years to private owners through the Bureau of Land Management's adoption incentive program that pays people to take the animals.
"I strongly urge BLM to immediately suspend this program and conduct a thorough investigation to ensure federal funds are used to protect wild horses and burros against abuse, neglect, or slaughter, as intended by Congress," Feinstein wrote.
"Although adopters sign a contract swearing under penalty of perjury that they will not sell adopted wild horses and burros directly or indirectly to slaughter," the reports by the advocacy groups and The New York Times suggest "that some adopters have done exactly that and BLM has failed to use all appropriate tools to enforce its contracts and prevent adopters who previously sold their wild horses to slaughter auctions from adopting again," Feinstein continued.
She noted that provisions in fiscal 2021 appropriations legislation prohibit the Interior Department from using federal money "for the destruction of wild horses and burros," as well as sales of the federally protected animals without ensuring they do not end up in slaughterhouses.
"Thank you for your attention to this important matter and I look forward to working with you to ensure humane outcomes for wild horses and burros," Feinstein concluded in the letter to Haaland.
BLM and the Interior Department have not commented publicly on the specific slaughter claims involving the bureau's adoption incentive program.
An Interior Department spokesperson today declined a request to comment on the Feinstein letter, or the senator's request to suspend the incentive program.
The program pays $1,000 to people who adopt one of the 51,000 wild horses held in off-range holding corrals and pastures. Participants receive $500 upfront and an additional $500 per adopted animal a year later, after a follow-up review determines whether the adopter is properly caring for the horse or horses and title has been transferred to the private party.
American Wild Horse Campaign officials said Haaland has not responded to them on the group's ongoing request that an investigation be conducted into the slaughter claims.
Holly Gann Bice, the American Wild Horse Campaign's director of government relations, said the group is "grateful" for Feinstein's support.
"We join the senator in calling for an immediate suspension of the [adoption] program and we are urging the Interior Department to suspend the Trump administration accelerated roundup program that is fueling the slaughter of America's iconic mustangs and burros," she said in an emailed statement.