A wild horse story

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1995:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.––The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act is perilously
close to becoming an unfunded mandate, due to Congressional budget cuts.
If that happens, the Bureau of Land Management will be forced to return to the
range more than 8,000 horses and burros now in adoption programs and sanctuaries––without
the money to protect them from snipers and horsemeat contractors.
Since 1970, the BLM has been responsible for keeping the wild horse and burro
population on federal land at a level acceptable to grazing lease holders, without killing horses
or burros, and without allowing anyone else to. In that time the wild horse population has
officially quadrupled, to circa 50,000. Citing private surveys, wild horse advocates say it’s
less than half that number.
Either way, western ranchers say it’s too many. About 3.2 million cattle compete
for water and forage within the equines’ habitat. Ranchers used to just round up wild horses
and burros for slaughter. Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable drew attention to that practice in
their last film, The Misfits (1961), which gave impetus to Nevada secretary Velma Johnson’s
then little noted efforts to protect wild equines. When the “Wild Horse Annie Act” finally
outlawed the slaughter roundups in 1970, it was nicknamed in Johnson’s honor.

Now the slaughter roundups may
resume. Conservationists who hold that horses
kill rare plants won’t object; though horses
evolved in North America, along with camels
and rhinoceroses, they migrated out in the
late Pleistocene epoch and are now considered
a non-native species. To most of the
environmental lobby, the BLM wild horse
and burro program is an easily sacrificed
pawn in the end game to save whatever can
be saved of the Endangered Species Act,
equally imperiled by Congress.
Already, in the past few budgets,
the wild horse and burro program has lost key
staff; lost the use of the Arizona and New
Mexico prisonors who “gentled” horses as
part of the rehabilitation of both; and lost a
sanctuary for unadoptable horses in
Bartlesville, Oklahoma, one of three set up
through private contractors in 1988. The
other two are in South Dakota.
The pinch is apparent in New
Mexico state BLM director Bill Calkins’
August 17 memo to staffers concerning disposition
of the Bartlesville horses:
“[National wild horse and burro
adoption specialist] Lilly Thomas reported to
me,” Calkins wrote, “that the offering in
Missouri of the 68 geldings resulted in 33
adoptions. Not a resounding success, given
the media blitz and effort made to get people
interested in these older animals…The strategy
for the closure of the sanctuary does not
seem to be working. Lilly is concerned that
we are going to have people hurt seriously if
we continue to try to adopt the old and mean
geldings. She proposes that we return all the
geldings to BLM land in Horse Management
Areas that are under capacity. After the initial
cost, this would free up mucho dolares
that currently go to the contractors at the
sanctuary, to be used in managing our basic
horse and burro program.”
Returning the horses to the range
would outrage ranchers and their friends in
Congress, but selling them other than
through the adoption procedure would both
break the law and outrage the public.
No help in sight
Ignoring the budget crunch, the
American Wild Horse and Burro Alliance
promised sensational revelations in announcing
a September 19 press conference.
“Evidence will be provided,” media were
told, about “Funneling horses through an
internal pipeline for disposal at slaughtering
plants, creating large monetary profits for
select individuals,” and “manipulation of
field data for the purpose of drastically reducing
wild horse and burro populations.”
Further, the invitations charged,
“several law enforcement agents of the BLM
were removed from a grand jury investigation
in Del Rio, Texas,” convened to probe
“what appeared to be a striking disclosure of
longstanding corruption within the BLM.
Some officers have been forced into retirement.
Others had to transfer to faraway locations,
disrupting family life, and one commutes
more than 500 miles to work. One
officer in the Del Rio investigation had been
targeted by his own agency superior to use
lethal force upon him if necessary,” the invitation
continued with syntax more breathless
than precise. “Many of these agents will be
coming to this conference to give facts about
ongoing corruption in the Wild Horse and
Burro program.”
Indeed, BLM agents did come,
identified to ANIMAL PEOPLE as Steve
Sederwall, John Brenna, John Fryer, Pete
Steele, and Dale Tunnell.
On December 22, 1994, acting on
a tip from the Beltex company, Sederwall
rescued nine horses from the Beltex slaughterhouse
at Fort Worth, Texas. Wrote Lee
Hancock of the Dallas Morning News, “The
seizure was made as the bureau’s adopt-ahorse
program faces scrutiny by a federal
grand jury in Del Rio, Texas. At issue is a
longstanding bureau policy of refusing
responsibility for the welfare of adopted horses
after issuing ownership titles––even if the
animals are sent to slaughter. Steve
Sederwall, a BLM investigator, said the
seizure was prompted by concern that the
agency may be violating federal law by waiving
responsibility for adoptees. ‘We’ve got
some law enforcement agents and some U.S.
attorneys that feel like those horses can’t go
to slaughter at all, ever, the way the law is
written,’ said Mr. Sederwall.”
The basis for that belief is an
October 1988 federal court ruling which forbade
the BLM from adopting out horses to
brokers for rodeos and slaughterhouses. Wild
horses may be claimed from the BLM for
$125, or as little as $25 if deemed officially
unadoptable, Sederwall told A N I M A L
PEOPLE, but slaughterhouses pay as much
as $1,000 per horse.
Eight of the nine horses seized in
Fort Worth had been adopted out less than six
weeks earlier to two residents of Albertville,
Alabama, who share the same surname and
address. By law, adoptors must keep BLM
horses for at least one year.
Sederwall is now on a self-requested
medical leave of absence. “They were
driving me crazy with all the transfers I had
to go through,” he told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Brenna, who didn’t return repeated telephone
messages, is in Oklahoma. Fryer has moved
to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Steele, the
agent commuting 500 miles on weekends to
see his family, has been reassigned to Reno,
Nevada, where the government is trying to
find out who bombed the BLM office in Reno
last year, the Forest Service office in Carson
City in March, and a car outside a Forest
Service official’s home on August 4. Calls
failed to reach either Steele or Tunnell, who
took time off work to go elk hunting shortly
after the Albuquerque press conference.
None of the BLM agents are
reported to have said much at the press conference.
As Sederwall explained to A N IMAL
PEOPLE, “I can’t talk to you about
the grand jury material. I can tell you that I
was a grand jury investigator. I started getting
really close to something, and I was
taken off the case. Same with the other
agents. We have boxes of evidence, but
nobody has ever asked us for it. We’ve been
ordered by our supervisor not to talk to the
FBI or the press or anyone. We’re pretty
much gagged. We’ve been gagged ever since
this grand jury was called. It’s been this way
for a year and a half. The grand jury won’t
call us to testify, and meanwhile we can’t
talk to anyone else.”
Elaboration came instead in a prepared
statement by Karen Sussman, president
of the International Society for the
Protection of Mustangs & Burros.
“In August of 1992,” Sussman
said, “agents of the BLM uncovered evidence
of an alleged massive cover-up of violations
of federal law and significant mismanagement
of the Wild Horse and Burro program.
In February of 1995, high-level officials
of the BLM, U.S. Department of the
Interior’s Solicitor’s Office, and U.S.
Department of Justice met in San Antonio,
Texas, to discuss the investigation. The
result of this meeting was the removal of the
original investigators from the case and the
reassignment of the case to the Office of the
Chief of Law Enforcement of the BLM.
Efforts to further investigate have been swept
under the carpet.
“This investigation,” Sussman
charged, “has also caused concerned and
outspoken BLM investigators to be victimized
by removals, forced retirements, and
involuntary relocations.”
Listed at the bottom of Sussman’s
statement as apparent co-signers were Ed
Sayres, director of the Animal Protection
Division of the American Humane
Association; Barbara Flores, Colorado representative
for the American Mustang &
Burro Association; Nancy Whitaker of the
Animal Protection Institute; D.J. Schubert of
the Fund for Animals; Donna Ewing, president
of the Hooved Animal Humane Society;
Dennis White, southwestern regional office
director for the Humane Society of the U.S.;
James Noe, director of the Gulf States
regional office for HSUS; Deborah
Ellsworth, a member of the Redwings Horse
Sanctuary board of directors; and Elisabeth
Jennings, executive director for Sangre de
Cristo Animal Protection, Inc.
According to Sussman, most had
not actually investigated the charges. They
were invited, she said, for their potential to
help get action, and agreed to be co-signers
after a two-day briefing that preceded the
press conference.
Involuntary relocation
Just before Sussman read her statement,
BLM spokesperson Tanna Chattin was
“shoved screaming from the room,” as
Martha Mendoza of Associated Press put it,
while Lynn Engdahl of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, with Chattin, left voluntarily.
“We asked them politely to leave,”
Sussman said. “They were trying to taperecord
the press conference. We asked them
to wait outside. They refused.” Jennings and
Ewing took a copy of the press packet from
Chattin. She grabbed another packet. They
tried to take that. “All that happened then
was that Chattin bent down and screamed,”
Sussman claimed. “We thought they were
there to disrupt us, and that’s what they did.”
“You’re damned right I screamed,”
said Chattin. “I was trying to get the attention
of our cops. I recognized some of them.
It looked like these women were going to
take my tape recorder, and I hoped some of
our cops would help me. I’ve never been in a
situation like this,” she added.
Indeed it is customary to allow representatives
of opposing views to attend
press conferences, and even to announce at
such gatherings the times and locations of
their own press conferences, as Chattin said
she had hoped to do. It is also customary to
share printed materials with the spokespersons
who may be asked to respond to them.
Chattin didn’t get copies until ANIMAL
PEOPLE faxed them to her, a full week
later, so that she could answer questions.
Both Jennings and Ewing were
booked for assault.
Chattin was not just any public
relations officer. Under her maiden name,
Tanna Beebe, she was a nationally respected
investigative reporter––cofounder of the
Native American Press Service, and the first
Native American newscaster in a top-20 market,
for the CBS affiliate in Seattle. She was
especially noted for her reports from the field
during the 1973 Native American uprising at
Wounded Knee, South Dakota––and for her
exposes of corruption within the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, BLM, and other branches of
the Department of the Interior. The Jimmy
Carter administration recruited her into the
BIA as a high-profile gesture toward reform.
Eighteen frustrating years later, in
February 1995, budget cuts at the BIA
bounced Chattin over to the BLM.
“No one is more interested than the
BLM in getting to the bottom of allegations
of corruption,” Chattin told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“But we didn’t have any idea what this
was about. The BLM has bent over backwards
to help these agents and the grand jury
investigation,” which is being conducted
under Del Rio assistant U.S. attorney Alia
Ludlum. Ludlum didn’t return repeated telephone
calls from ANIMAL PEOPLE. Nor
did she respond to Chattin, or apparently, the
Los Angeles Times.
“We supplied Ludlum with investigators
for a good long while,” Chattin continued.
“While they were helping her, their regular
duties took a back seat, and work piled
up. We couldn’t leave them on special
assignment forever. We’ve had to make a lot
of accomodations. The only law enforcement
person left here in New Mexico is the special
agent in charge. We had ten employees here,
and now we have four. And we have desks
on top of desks because we’re trying to rent
out half our space.”
According to Chattin, the agents at
the Albuquerque press conference had been
transferred repeatedly not to get rid of them,
but to keep them, by moving them to fill
whatever openings occurred elsewhere,
instead of having to lay them off.
ANIMAL PEOPLE i n v e s t i g a t e d
the allegations of corruption and a cover-up
in the BLM horse adoption program as best
we could with none of the purported key witnesses
talking and none of the many wild
horse experts we know having any idea just
what they had hinted at.
We did learn that even as we spoke
to Animal Rights Mobilization president
Robin Duxbury, between her shifts as a grocery
checker at a job she took to make her
former salary available to help finance investigations,
ARM volunteers Toni and Don
Moore were in Sandwash, Colorado, to document
and bring attention to the participation
of one Dave Couture in the roundup of 237
wild horses for the BLM at $77 apiece.
Where the bigger, richer activist groups were
was anyone’s guess. According to Sussman,
who was aware of the Sandwash roundup,
Couture and three of his wranglers were convicted
in 1993 in Las Vegas of illegally selling
BLM horses to rodeos.
Most specific incidents we were
told about turned out to have occurred in connection
with a series of scandals that broke
between 1984, when the BLM introduced a
“fee waiver” system for placing unadoptable
horses, and 1989, when that system was
abolished after a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
decision excluded horsemeat brokers and
rodeo suppliers from using it. In the interim,
dealers took advantage of fee-waivers to send
as many as 17,000 wild horses to slaughter.
One other recent case was mentioned.
Sederwall said he was witness to a
summer 1994 incident at Fort Stockton,
Texas, where a herd of horses was advertised
for Saturday adoption, but instead, “The
BLM tried to move those horses out on
Friday night,” purportedly because someone
else wanted to buy them for slaughter.
Without being asked about that
incident, and without being told of anything
like it, Chattin described similar situations,
where horses are moved, she said, to protect
them from theft by killer-buyers and others,
who turn up at auction sites trying to get
horses without meeting the requisite conditions.
Those conditions are stipulated in
BLM brochures. They include specifications
for trailers, stalls, stables, and corrals.
Sederwall also said the killer-buyers
“just changed their modus operandi,”
when fee-waivers were halted. “The caper
now,” he said, “is that instead of the feewaiver
deal, whole herds will be classified as
unadoptable, and then it’s the same thing.”
Acknowledged Chattin, “We may
have some corrupt individuals within the
BLM. We’re still a big agency.” She cited
“some impropriety with a temporary wrangler”
not long ago, who was fired, but was
not prosecuted, “because at most he got
$1,500 for the horses he sold, and our threshhold
for criminal prosecution is a loss of
$25,000. Maybe it should be lower,” she
admitted, “but because we don’t have the
people to investigate and prosecute every
case, we have to set priorities. But most of
our people are not corrupt,” she hastened to
add. “We don’t want those corrupt people
because they give all of us a bad name. They
give me a bad name. They make people
think I’m a spy and a disrupter. I can’t ask
any of these people in the grand jury investigation
to tell me anything they shouldn’t, and
would get in trouble for,” she added, “but I
would like to know the truth about all this just
as much as you do.”
No one provided written documentation
of any wrongdoing that wasn’t already
on the public record. The December 1994
Fort Worth raid has apparently led to another
grand jury investigation, in Mississippi, but
it apparently involves the same relatively
low-level traffic, by––as best we can determine––a
handful of renegades.
Reed Smith
The only written documentation
Sussman offered of the alleged cover-up was
a letter from retired BLM staffer Reed Smith.
Most BLM wild horse program sources to
whom we spoke didn’t recognize his name.
He apparently wasn’t involved with wild
horses for long, if ever.
But the name Reed Smith was
familiar to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
There are several Reed Smiths with
whom the ex-BLM Reed Smith might be confused,
among them Lieutenant Reed Smith,
pollution response coordinator for the
California Department of Fish and Game;
attorney J. Reed Smith of San Diego,
California; J. Read Smith, vice president of
the Washington Association of Conservation
Districts; and attorney W. Reed Smith, of
Metairie, Louisiana.
But only one Reed Smith with a
wide paper trail seems to be in the same age

bracket as the whistleblower––born circa
1930––and is similarly described by acquaintances.
That Reed Smith has quite a history
of alleged persecution by government as a
self-proclaimed “seeker-after-truth.” His
known record begins with diary excerpts purportedly
written in 1963, published in 1979
by The Phoenix, the journal of conscientious
objection that in 1938 became the first U.S.
publisher of the late Henry Miller. In the
excerpts, a mention of protracted court procedings
in connection with a messy divorce
evolves into hints that both the divorce and a
bankruptcy resulted because Smith started a
bookstore with money borrowed from his
elderly parents, and tried to sell Miller’s
then-banned opus Tropic of Cancer. Smith
intimates that he lost the bookstore due to the
cost of taking the case to the Supreme Court.
Tropic of Cancer was subject of a landmark
1961 Supreme Court verdict for press freedom,
but Smith offered no verifiable
specifics, and published accounts of the case
don’t mention him.
Thereafter, according to the diary,
Smith lived on a small government disability
pension, sharing a room with two shoplifters.
How he got the pension, he didn’t say.
By 1977, the date of the last
Phoenix diary entry, he had apparently come
into money, from an unstipulated source;
married his ailing mother’s nurse, an illegal
alien with whom he had no actual marital
relationship, to bring her into the U.S.; and
ceased to file tax returns circa 1975, which
he represented as an act of opposition to war.
In passing, Smith blamed the Jewish victims
of the Nazi Holocaust for allegedly bringing
on their own fate by obeying government.
Paradoxically, if Reed Smith the
whistleblower and Reed Smith the selfannointed
Diogenes are indeed the same, he
traded his disability pension for a BLM job
on September 29, 1974, expressly in pursuit––he
said––of a 20-year pension. A N IMAL
PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, then
editor of the alternative journal S a m i s d a t,
recalls rejecting one of Smith’s anti-government
essays in 1976; his cover letter mentioned
the BLM job. Smith subsequently corresponded
briefly with Samisdat assistant editor
P.J. Kemp, now an ANIMAL PEOPLE
book reviewer, who wanted to know how
Smith reconciled his job with his opinions.
Circa 1980, this Reed Smith commenced
Smith’s Journal, an autobiography in
tabloid newspaper format, taking up where
the Phoenix excerpts ended. He still banged
the drums for tax resistance, now in cacaphonous
concert with the anti-property tax movement
led by the late Howard Jarvis and his
sidekick Bill Wewer––the same Wewer who
went on to incorporate the Doris Day Animal
League in 1987 and the anti-animal rights
group Putting People First in 1990. Smith
now insisted that the Nazis never tried to kill
Jews, that there weren’t even gas chambers
at Auchwitz, that the death toll was “only”
1.6 million, not six million plus, that they
died from typhus, and that the whole
Holocaust story was an elaborate hoax concocted
to rationalize Allied bombing and the
creation of Israel. Eventually this Reed
Smith posted a reward for anyone who could
testify to the existence of gas chambers at
Auschwitz from personal knowledge,
accused Holocaust survivors of lying,
refused to pay up, and was successfully sued.
P h o e n i x editor/publisher James
Cooney, who died in 1984, told Clifton, a
longtime chess partner, that publishing Smith
was his biggest mistake.
Mr. Smith goes to
Reed Smith the diarist left little
paper trail after the Auschwitz lawsuit. His
last known addresses were in southern
California. Reed Smith the whistleblower
says he never worked in California, but did
serve the BLM in New Mexico, Alaska,
Wyoming, and Washington D.C., where he
spent eight years. BLM sources indicate that
the whistleblowing Smith came to
Washington D.C. from the west during the
Ronald Reagan administration, and enjoyed
a rising career until the arrival of the Bill
Clinton administration meant the exit of wellplaced
Republican appointees. Reputedly
owning a home in Montana, Smith was
transferred, apparently unhappily, to New
Mexico, where the BLM made him deputy
state director for resource planning, use, and
protection. He began blowing the whistle on
alleged corruption almost immediately. He
may have been genuinely disturbed by corruption.
He may also have been aware that
federal whistleblower protection law provides
significant compensation to anyone who can
prove that a transfer, demotion, firing,
leave, or forced retirement is retaliatory.
“I have been in almost every office
in the Bureau on various program reviews,”
Smith told the American Wild Horse & Burro
Alliance, “including management control
reviews, looking for waste, fraud, and
abuse. Hence I may be able to provide information
as to where to look and how to look.
My documents, taped recordings of conversations
with Bureau officials, meeting notes,
log books, etc., related to the Wild Horse
Program have been subpoenaed and have
been provided to the U.S. attorney in Del Rio,
Texas, for the Grand Jury. However, I have
copies and can make them available to the
committee. The abuses and violations go far
beyond the Wild Horse and Burro program
and, in fact, permeate the entire agency.”
Yet the one supporting document
Smith seems to have supplied to Sussman is
a two-and-a-half-page memo to himself
dated March 21, 1994, in which he extensively
describes only his own alleged persecution
by the BLM, with reference to purported
simultaneous persecution of Dale
Tunnell, former New Mexico deputy state
director for BLM law enforcement. There is
no mention in the memo of horses, nor of
any other specific BLM program.
Oil & gas
However, Smith’s claims resonate
with allegations published by Josh Kurtz of
the weekly Santa Fe Reporter, in the edition
of October 19-25, 1994. Based on Smith’s
information, Kurtz charged that Meridan Oil
Inc., “the nation’s largest independent oil
and gas company, has been pumping tens of
millions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas from
the New Mexico earth without paying the
required taxes and royalties. Authorities
from Santa Fe to Washington have thus far
refused to pursue either criminal or civil
Smith, Kurtz’ only named source,
turned up 40 paragraphs into the article. In
May 1992, Kurtz wrote, then-New Mexico
BLM director Larry Woodard convened a
meeting to decide what to do about evidence
that Meridan had underpaid royalties by $23
million. Smith and Tunnell were among the
15 people present. Smith said he pushed
unsuccessfully for a criminal investigation.
Soon afterward, Kurtz continued,
“Tunnell, an aggressive cop with a solid
investigative background, was demoted to a
non-law enforcement job and reassigned to
the BLM office in Las Cruces. In December
of 1992, Reed Smith asked Tunnell to put
together a civil case against Meridan, to
determine if any of the reporting violations
had been ‘knowing and willful.’ Smith also
tried repeatedly to get Larry Woodward more
interested in the case.”
But Woodward retired in 1993.
Then, according to Kurtz, “Armed with
Tunnell’s civil case against Meridan, which
recommended that the company be fined up
to $5 million on top of the royalties owed,
Reed Smith and some of his colleagues went
to the Interior Department’s solicitor in Santa
Fe. They presented the Meridan case and
asked whether the BLM could seek civil
penalties.” Smith and another witness told
Kurtz that solicitor Arthur Arguedas told
them the applicable law was too weak to be
enforced. Arguedas, on the other hand, told
Kurtz that their discussion didn’t even specifically
address the Meridan case.
Smith then took the case to BLM
deputy minister for energy and mineral
resources Dan Sokolski, in Washington
D.C., who kicked it back to Woodward’s
successor, Bill Calkins. Calkins, wrote
Kurtz, did nothing for several months, then
pressured Smith into retirement.
Indeed, Smith retired on September
29, 1994, the day he got his 20 years in. As
a contact address, he left the BLM only a
Montana post office box.
Kurtz did try to get the other side of
Smith’s story, but he wasn’t successful.
Among those who refused Kurtz’ interview
requests were Sokolski; Woodward; Manuel
Lujan, Secretary of the Interior, 1989-1993;
and various Meridan officials. Some claimed
they couldn’t talk because the Meridan investigation
was still underway.
Perhaps there was something seriously
questionable in the BLM dealings with
Meridan. But Smith’s history, if indeed he is
the same Reed Smith who “pursued truth” in
the preceding several decades, doesn’t bolster
confidence in the accusations.
And whatever happened involving
oil and gas leasing, it doesn’t seem to have
had a thing to do with horses.

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