By Steven Long
1935 WPA Dust Bowl Photo, Library of Congress
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – Little has changed in the federal Bureau of Land Management’s handling of wild horses under its Wild Horse and Burro Program, this in spite of the worst drought affecting Midwestern states since the dust bowl of the 1930s. What’s more, nothing will change, despite a threat from nature that could put thousands of animals in jeopardy.
Asked by Horseback if the BLM was making any special arrangements to move wild horses held captive in giant pastures in Oklahoma and Kansas, national BLM spokesman Tom Gorey responded:
“Despite the current drought conditions in the Midwest, wild horses on long-term pastures continue to thrive,” he said. “If current weather conditions do not change, pasture contractors may have to begin supplemental feeding earlier than normal. Therefore, these wild horses will have the advantage of having someone that can address their immediate needs.”
The BLM holds tens of thousands of horses in giant pastures in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Horseback also asked Gorey if the press and public would be given unlimited access to the secretive boarding procedures at the privately contracted pastures. Recently the magazine has had increasing anecdotal reports of horses being removed from those pastures in cattle trucks to be sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
Such reports may be pure fantasy since no animal advocates have actually trailed or photographed trucks carrying horses from BLM’s private secretive pastures to slaughterhouses abroad. Moreover, there have been few substantiated reports of horses in slaughterhouses with the distinctive BLM neck brands.
“Wild horses and burros removed from the range are branded immediately,” Gorey said. “Wild horses are *not* being taken in the dead of night from long-term pastures to slaughter, as I’ve stated before. This is a myth. Wild horses are branded by the BLM after they are gathered from the range.”
Yet the rumors persist and come from credible sources near BLM holding facilities.
“With regard to public and media access, you no doubt are aware that we have started annual pasture tours that are open to the press and public,” Gorey said.
The tightly controlled pasture tours the spokesman mentioned are of limited duration and are held only intermittently.
“ 24/7 access is not possible because the pastures are privately owned,” Gorey said. “As I mentioned, there are currently no emergency situations at our contracted pastures.”
While the BLM pastures are owned by private contractors, there is virtually no doubt that the agency could easily exert pressure to open them up in light of recent rulings in cases such as Leigh vs. Salazar from California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The justices ruled BLM is illegally preventing the press from observing roundups it calls using the benign term, “gathers.”