Suit vs. BLM horse program keeps an ace for wild jacks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:

RENO––Suing the Bureau of Land
Management on June 19 for alleged maladministration
of the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming
Horse and Burro Act, the Fund for Animals
and Animal Protection Institute dropped at the
last minute a much discussed request for an
injunction to halt BLM wild horse and burro
roundups pending program reform.
As filed, Fund attorney Howard
Crystal told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “The pending
motion before Judge Howard McKibben
strictly concerns the matter on which Judge
McKibben ruled [in favor of the Fund and
A P I ] ten years ago––the adoption program.
Plaintiffs are requesting that the Court modify
its longstanding permanent injunction against
the BLM to require the agency to affirmatively
inquire into the intentions of adopters, rather
than continuing to implement a policy which
one Justice Department attorney refers to as
‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ In addition,” Crystal
said, “plaintiffs are seeking other changes in
the adoption program to help ensure that adopted
animals end up in the hands of people who
intend to care for them, rather than sell them.”

The Fund and API had more than
2,000 reasons to drop the request to halt the
roundups, popular though it would have been
with wild horse activists, many of whom seek
a complete end to the BLM horse program.
At risk, explain Gene and Diana
Chontos of Wild Burro Rescue, were the
2,000-odd wild burros on land managed not by
the BLM but by the National Park Service,
Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
military, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The
BLM has a mandate under the “Wild Horse
Annie Act” of 1971 to maintain wild horses
and burros at a much debated sustainable level,
and to cull, as deemed necessary, by nonlethal
methods, but the Park Service in particular
tends to view wild burros as an introduced
threat to native plants, therefore to be shot.
“They lethally remove wild burros
under a policy called ‘direct reduction,’” Gene
and Diana Chontos told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Over the past 15 years, several thousand wild
burros have been shot at Death Valley National
Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Bandolier
National Monument, Kofa National Wildlife
Refuge, and the China Lake Naval Weapons
Center. However, as many or more have been
saved because the BLM entered into joint
agreements with the other agencies and live

captured burros otherwise designated for lethal
removal. Without the BLM wild equine program,
these burros would have been shot.”
Formed in 1984 in response to such
shootings, Wild Burro Rescue took on an
expanded mission 10 years later when passage
of the California Desert Protection Act handed
the National Park Service extensive public
lands formerly managed by the BLM––and
authority over 1,400 wild burros in the Mojave
Desert plus 500 in Death Valley.
With BLM cooperation, Wild Burro
Rescue has by agreement with the Park
Service removed about two dozen burros from
the Mojave in each of the past three springs––
enough to offset population growth and forestall
planned shooting.
“We would like to see any abuses in
the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program
stopped, and will support such action, but let
us not do so at the expense of killing wild burros,”
Gene and Diana Chontos said. “Wild
burros do not share the same situations, conditions
and determinations with wild horses.
Most wild horses are on BLM land; most wild
burros are not. Wild horses suffer horrible
neglect, abuse, and potential slaughter in
domestic situations, while wild burros are
much in demand as companion animals, who
adjust remarkably well to humankind. Wild
Burro Rescue wants to put an end to the lethal
removal of wild burros from all public land,”
they emphasized. “Until this is accomplished,
and as long as the BLM provides a live-capture
alternative to shooting wild burros, we will
not support campaigns to suspend or eliminate
the Wild Horse and Burro program.”
Ghosts of the range
The Fund/API lawsuit intends,
according to a Fund release, to “explicitly prohibit
any BLM employee from ever transferring
or selling animals for commercial purposes,
implement a duty of inquiry under penalty
of perjury into an adopter’s intentions, set a
timetable to address the issue of untitled animals,
set adequate enforcement mechanisms,
and continue judicial oversight.”
The suit builds on media e x p o s e s,
mostly by Associated Press reporter Martha
Mendoza, which alleged earlier this year that
BLM employees are adopting large numbers of
horses and reselling them for slaughter.
Mendoza also charged that the BLM has simply
lost track of more than 32,000 horses
whose titles have never been transferred.
The same charges were raised
in September 1995 by a coalition of
wild horse protection groups, who
claimed based on statements by former
BLM special agent Steve
Sederwall that “higher-ups” had
squelched a grand jury probe of the
BLM wild horse program convened
by former federal prosecutor Alia
Ludlom, now a federal magistrate, in
Del Rio, Texas.
1995, however, that the case histories
Sederwall offered seemed to predate
amendments to the BLM wild equine
program instituted as result of scandal
and the Fund/API lawsuit in 1987-
1988. Other BLM staff who supposedly
were supporting witnesses
refused to discuss specifics, even off
the record. A statement by retired
BLM manager Reed Smith, which the
horse groups circulated as purported
backup, turned out to be a recycled
edition of allegations Smith earlier
made about BLM oil and gas leasing.
Smith had no evident direct experience
with the horse program. Though
he denied being the same man, a Reed
Smith of the same age, employed by
the BLM at the same time, had a long
history as a would-be whistleblower of
dubious repute, including as publisher
of Holocaust denial literature.
Sederwall said that the Del Rio
grand jury had never called witnesses,
but according to Associated Press,
“Records show that the grand jury saw
evidence and heard testimony that
BLM agents placed 550 horses with
dozens of people who were told they
could do as they wished with them after a year,
including sell them for slaughter; the BLM
gave the Choctaw Indian Nation 29 newly
born, unbranded colts to sell so the tribe could
raise cash to pay the BLM for a mass adoption
of 115 wild horses; a Texas BLM compliance
officer, Don Galloway, arranged to keep 36
horses for himself and told two undercover
investigators he planned to sell them for
slaughter”; BLM district manager Steve
Henke allegedly told Galloway that he was the
subject of a pending search warrant, enabling
him to “clean out” his files “a little bit” by his
own admission; and BLM officials allegedly
falsified adoption documents, including
records of brand numbers.
Each act, if substantiated, would be
illegal. But the grand jury probe was closed in
July 1996, without issuing indictments.
Another former BLM special agent,
Dale Tunnell, spoke to reporters on the record
this year, after retiring in December 1996.
But while Sederwall and Tunnell said their
departures were from frustration with coverups,
ANIMAL PEOPLE found they had
other grievances, too––and intercepted an email
communique among BLM staffers,
which read in full, “Speaking of Mr.
Sederwall, while I was going through old files
trying to help the IG [Inspector General] staff
who were visiting, I found a file with the
Sederwall name. It is a file from 1981, when
Mr. and the ex-Mrs. Sederwall both signed for
four horses each for a group adopter by the
name of AB McReynolds. Those particular 8
horses are still untitled. Isn’t it interesting that
Mr. Sederwall apparently was once involved in
the very type of large scale adoption scheme
that he now moans about? I’m sure that his
intentions were of the highest sort.”
Asked to respond on April 8,
Sederwall still had not responded as of July 1.
According to BLM spokesperson
Bob Johns, of 266,000 horses killed in U.S.
slaughterhouses during 1995 and 1996, just
700 had ever been wild, and only one had ever
been owned by a BLM staffer. But Jeff Ruch,
legislative director for Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, countered that
the BLM data was flawed because it didn’t
include records pertaining to the 30,000-plus
allegedly untitled horses.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that
although there may be a backlog of untitled
former wild horses, the reason for it appears to
be cuts in the BLM staff and budget imposed
by first the 1993 “reinvention of government”
advanced by then newly inaugurated President
Bill Clinton, and after 1994, by the wise-use
Republican-dominated 104th Congress.
Former BLM director Jim Baca confirmed
in March that turmoil within the wild
horse program was involved in his 1994
ouster. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
“thought it might cause problems,” Baca told
Associated Press. “When they wanted me to
leave BLM, that was one of the reasons they
gave me: ‘Why the hell are you raising problems
about horses?’”
Working to restore public confidence
in the BLM wild equine program, acting BLM
director Sylvia Baca [not a close relation of
Jim Baca] on February 11 relocated management
of the BLM wild equine program from
Reno to her own office in Washington D.C.,
and introduced a rule allowing BLM offices to
go to competitive bidding, at their discretion,
instead of a flat $125 adoption fee for all horses
regardless of demand; on February 19
released an audit by the Inspector General of
the Department of the Interior, which put the
current wild horse population at 43,590 as of
the end of 1995, nearly 17,000 above the estimated
carrying capacity of rangeland also
grazed by as many as four million cows and
sheep; on April 22 announced new regulations
intended to better enforce adoption standards;
and on June 6 solicited nominations for a
reconstituted Wild Horse and Burro Advisory
Board, which is to have up to nine members,
representing equine advocates, scientists, veterinarians,
managers of widlife, livestock,
and natural resources, and the general public.
Members may not be government employees.
Gene and Diana Chontos applied for
appointment on June 10. Nominations closed
July 5.

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