A Colorado rancher just over the New Mexico state line sold a Mexican slaughterhouse nearly 1,800 wild horses he had bought from the Bureau of Land Management, and Southwest Livestock Co., in Los Lunas, NM, was asked if it played a role in exporting some of the horses to Mexico's "kill plant," according a report released late Friday by the Office of Inspector General.
Tom Davis, who lives in Conejos County, just north of New Mexico's northern border, admitted during a federal investigation that he sold the wild horses after buying them from the Bureau of Land Management by the truckload, nearly 35 per load at $10 a head.
He told investigators he made as much as $3,000 per truck load and said he figured BLM knew he was sending them to slaughter; between 2009 and 2012, the agency sold many of these horses at very low prices, the report points out.
Wild horses, whether they come from BLM or US Forest Service land, are protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, and it is illegal to sell them for slaughter. Instead, the government's plan for decades has been to round up the excess horses on their range lands and then put them up for adoption, with federal agents ostensibly following up on their conditions a year later.
Davis will not be prosecuted either criminally or civilly in connection with the kill, a fact that has riled wild horse advocates across the country; the case has been directly sent to the US attorney general's office in Colorado and to the Conejos County district attorney's office.
As a result, BLM and the Office of Inspector General, the investigatory arm of the Health and Human Services Department, have come under fire with Friday's release of the report, which also exonerated all BLM employees of any wrongdoing in selling Davis so many horses.
In fact, the report points out, the employee who sold the most horses to Davis received "monetary awards" based on the number of horses she sold.
"It took more than three years for OIG to tell us what we've always known: that the BLM sold 1,795 federally protected wild horses to a known kill buyer who sold them to slaughter," Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, wrote in an email sent to SFR. "Unfortunately, there will be no justice for these mustangs, who suffered a brutal death in Mexican slaughter plants. No one at the BLM is being held accountable for this betrayal, and Tom Davis is not being prosecuted for violating his contractual obligation to not sell the horses for slaughter."
Southwest Livestock officials were interviewed by federal investigators, although Davis claims he never sold BLM-purchased wild horses to Southwest Livestock; he claims that he sold other horses to the company.
Horse slaughter, though it existed for years in the United States, is now illegal, and BLM horses, after they are rounded up, are branded on the neck in what is referred to as freeze-brand. It's mark that USDA investigators are supposed to look for during inspections of horses that leave the state, according to the report.
A USDA inspector in New Mexico, however, told federal investigators that he never visually inspected horses coming from Southwest Livestock, but only went by paperwork, assuming it was accurate and truthful.
There are thousands of wild horses that roam 10 states in the West and Southwest, and New Mexico is one of them. The US Forest Service in northern New Mexico in Rio Arriba County just last month started rounding up wild horses on its land in El Rito and Jicarilla ranger districts.