Galloping doubts about BLM wild horse sales ordered by Congress

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:

WASHINGTON D.C.–The Bureau of Land
Management and the buyers themselves tried to
depict the first sales in a mass disposal of wild
horses mandated by Congress as “rescues,” by
“sanctuaries,” but horse rescue veterans are not
all buying the dog-and-pony show.
The sales are required by a stealth
amendment to the 1971 Wild and Free Ranging
Horse and Burro Protection Act introduced by U.S.
Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) in November
2004. The Burns amendment orders the BLM to sell
“without limitation” any horse in custody who is
10 years of age or who has been offered for
adoption three times without a taker.
About 8,400 of the 24,000 horses already
in the BLM captive inventory were made
immediately eligible for sale, and many of the
remainder will be eligible by the end of the
year. The BLM is also continuing to capture
horses, with the stated goal of reducing the
U.S. wild horse population from about 37,000 to
circa 28,000.

The very first transaction, 200 wild
mares sold to the for-profit firm Wild Horses
Wyoming, raised concern–especially after
rancher Ron Hawkins, one of five partners in the
venture, told the Laramie Boomerang that
“There’s a viable agri-product that will come
out. These foals [expected from the pregnant
mares] will be marketed, and we’ve got some
tremendous marketing ideasŠWe’d like to get some
sponsorship dollars to place these foals down in
Third World countries or in Mexico where a little
village may need some horsepower to clear a field
or to run a pump and produce water.”
Responded Willis Lamm of Kickin’ Back
Ranch Wild Horses, a wild horse rescuer for more
than 25 years, first in California and now in
Nevada, and a cofounder of the Alliance of Wild
Horse Advocates, “Mexico is the #2 producer of
horsemeat world wide. One has to stop and smell
the horses here. Why form a for-profit
corporation to acquire horses for charitable
purposes? Why would someone breed animals to
mitigate an overpopulation problem?
“Wild Horses Wyoming acquired only mares
and plans to breed,” Lamm continued. “The only
honest market for these animals involves
head-to-head competition with the BLM adoption
program. Without having established an honest
market for the offspring of 200 head, Hawkins is
reportedly looking to acquire a total of some
5,000 head. Assuming only a 75% conception rate,
that would put 4,000 colts onto the market each
“The state of Wyoming has no livestock welfare laws,” Lamm added.
“There is already a major and expensive pony
rescue underway in Wyoming after a large number
of animals died. If Wild Horses Wyoming acquires
a huge number of animals and starts to go under,
we will have yet another large scale animal
disaster, this time precipitated by our Federal
Under scrutiny, Hawkins told Casper
Star-Tribune environmental reporter Whitney
Royster, “We’ve never committed to send horses
anywhere. All we’re doing is searching and
seeking out all avenues,” Hawkins insisted.
“We’re not going to sell them to someone who is
going to be abusive to them. Wild Horses Wyoming
has no plans to send them to Mexico or Third
World countries. It’s only an avenue we are
Hawkins’ partners include Fort Collins
realtors Sean Mater and Bill Clark. Both
confirmed to Sandra Cherub of Associated Press
their intent to acquire as many as 5,000 wild

Repeal bills

“There are dozens of slick operators out
there,” Lamm cautioned. “Some have apparently
already seen how they can profit from acquiring
cheap taxpayer-subsidized horses and still stay
just on the legal side” of bills pushed by animal
advocates who hope to repeal the Burns amendment.
The bills include HR-297, introduced in
January by U.S. Representatives Nick J. Rahall
(D-West Virginia) and Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky),
which would restore to all wild equines the full
protection of the 1971 Wild and Free Ranging
Horse and Burro Protection Act; a companion
bill, S-576, by Senator Robert Byrd (D-West
Virginia); and HR-503, the American Horse
Slaughter Prevention Act, which would “amend the
Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping,
transporting, moving, delivering, receiving,
possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation
of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for
human consumption, and for other purposes.”
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, HR-297
had 41 co-sponsors, S-576 had none, and HR-503
had 70, after attracting 228 in the previous
Tribal buyers
Native American tribes were the first
wild horse buyers in the Dakotas. Paying just
$1.00 per head, Rosebud Sioux president Charles
Colombe bought 210 and Three Affiliated Tribes
chair Tex Hall bought 400, reported Samantha
Young of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“There are plenty of cowboys here and
they are willing to try and break the horses and
train them,” said Todd Fast Horse, executive
secretary to Colombe, hinting that many of the
horses might be used in rodeos.
Fast Horse said that horses who could not be
broken would “roam free alongside buffalo on
tribal pasture lands,” Young wrote. Each of 20
tribal communities receiving horses will be
allocated 25 acres of range per horse from the
million-acre Rosebud Sioux Reservation land trust
in South Dakota, Fast Horse promised.
Some of the land is now leased to
non-tribal ranchers. “The only loss to the tribe
would be lease income, but providing something
for the children is more important,” Fast Horse
told Young. “Every tribal reservation is the
same. There’s nothing for the kids. We need
something constructive to take them away from TV
and video games.”
The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikira
nations, forming the Three Affiliated Tribes of
North Dakota, plans to resell wild horses for
$25 a head, MHA Buffalo Enterprises tribal ranch
manager James Pete Hale told Young.
Wrote Young, “The tribe will require
buyers to sign an affidavit modeled after a BLM
adoption contract, promising to keep the horses
for at least a year. Asked if the horses could
then be sold to slaughter, Hale said, ‘Indians
do not believe horses should be killed. We never
take old horses to sale. Normally we let them
die of old age.'”
This is true of most of the Lakota, who
were the dominant horse culture of the northern
Great Plains in pre-settlement times. The
Rosebud, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikira nations
are all remnant Lakota bands.
Historically, however, some of the the
so-called “dog-eater” Lakota bands, considered a
lower caste, followed the horse tribes on foot,
at a discreet distance of about a day’s ride,
and scavenged what they left, including wounded
bison not found by the mounted hunters and dead
or injured horses.
After the surviving remnants of the
Lakota and other northern and western tribes were
herded into reservations, where band and caste
identity were blurred or lost, “dog-eaters”
often assimilated more easily into agribusiness,
finding off-reservation jobs in the livestock and
slaughter industries. Some became purveyors of
wild horses to slaughter.

Friends of Mustangs

Friends of the Mustangs member Chris
Egelston made the symbolic first purchase of a
wild horse offered for sale in Colorado, a
20-year-old mare whose foal Egelston adopted in
October 2004. The mare was placed with someone
else at the same adoption event in Grand Junction.
“She was voluntarily returned to the BLM
last month when her owner failed to take care of
her,” explained Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
reporter Sally Spaulding. “Jim Dollerschell,
wild horse program director with the Grand
Junction office of the BLM, made Friends of the
Mustangs aware of the situation. The volunteer
group helped gather 68 horses from the Little
Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range last October,”
including the mare and foal.
By the third week of March 2005, the BLM
had sold 824 of the estimated 8,400 wild horses
who were released from protection by the Burns
“The BLM estimates there are 37,000 wild
horses and burros living on public lands in 10
Western states, almost 9,000 more than the land
can sustain,” summarized Samantha Young. But
the wild equines share the range with nearly four
million cattle.

Dartmoor precedent

U.S. wild horse enthusiasts fear that
“marketplace conservation,” favored by the White
House and western Republicans, will quickly thin
many mustang bands below viability. Britain has
relied upon “marketplace conservation” to
preserve Dartmoor ponies, the last indigenous
wild equine breed in the British Isles, but
since Britain joined the European Community,
giving British farmers access to continental
horsemeat markets, the results have been
“Forty years ago the number of ponies on
Dartmoor stood at 30,000. It could now be as low
as 1,500. The problem is there are not a lot of
economic reasons to keep these ponies,” Dartmoor
Pony Heritage Trust cofounder Elizabeth
Newbolt-Young recently told The Daily Telegraph.
Only about 500 Dartmoor ponies are not
crossed with Shetland ponies and other domestic
breeds, Newbolt-Young estimated.


Conrad Burns has insisted all along that
the idea behind his amendment to the Wild & Free
Roaming Horse & Burro Act was simply to expedite
the transfer of wild horses from BLM custody to
nonprofit sanctuaries.
Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, of
Lancaster, California, bought 13 at $1.00 each,
founder Jill Starr told Michael Milstein of the
Portland Oregonian.
Never spending less than 72% of total
expenditure on fundraising plus administrative
costs [including “professional fundraising fees”
declared on IRS Form 990 filings but claimed as a
program expense], Lifesavers is among a
constellation of animal charities with similar
spending patterns which have been represented in
recent years by firms owned or controlled by
fundraiser Bruce Eberle. The Wise Giving
Alliance recommends that combined fundraising and
administrative expense [including all
“professional fundraising fees”] should not
exceed 35%.
Lifesavers on February 1, 2005
discontinued involvement with Eberle, whose
firms have produced recent mailings for several
other equine charities.
Some members of the Alliance of Wild
Horse Advocates argue that the entire wild horse
advocacy community should begin vigorous
fundraising so as to be able to take more horses.
Willis Lamm, who is also a former
Lifesavers board member, calls that “Dream
stuff. As if the wild horse and burro groups are
going to be able to raise some $8 million per
year to hold horses in sanctuaries.”
“I don’t think there is enough room in
the system for all these horses or all the others
they’re going to bring off the range,” agreed
Points out Lamm, “The wild horse groups
couldn’t even get organized to help Jean-Marie
Webster with the Slick Gardner rescue,”
involving about 300 wild horses from Nevada whom
Gardner was convicted of neglecting at several
California sites. Lifesavers took some of the
horses, as did other sanctuaries, but Webster
ended up with most, according to Lamm.
“Webster is shelling out around $900 per
day to feed those horses,” Lamm continued.
“That’s a huge outlay, even for someone with
means. Where is all of this fantasy money? When
we can adequately fund the animals now in private
care, we can consider some of this
pie-in-the-sky stuff,” Lamm said. “Until then,
and especially with the volume of mail some of us
contend with daily, we need to distill what we
“Our solution, whatever it may be, can’t
be such that it drains the animal charity well,”
Lamm emphasized. “Even if we could raise the
funds for these animals, any significant inroads
would be at the expense of other worthwhile
animal programs and projects.
“Even if there was some magical
outpouring of new donor money,” Lamm added,
“there isn’t a sufficient longterm revenue stream
to maintain these horses. What happens when the
money runs short? We will have created the
thermonuclear equivalent of the Slick Gardner
“An alternative model that can be
cost-effective,” Lamm allowed, “involves
organizing grassroots volunteers to provide
foster care for animals until they are adopted.
These types of projects can be extremely
beneficial when properly designed and managed,
but they too can get complicated,” Lamm warned.
“I can’t recall the numbers of times we’ve had to
go in and recover animals belonging to other
organizations when their foster system broke
down. In most instances, foster care is
effective only for short-term rescue, and the
organizing groups need to have credible placement
strategies, not assume that animals can stay in
foster care indefinitely.
“I’ve dealt with enough dead and dying
horses to last a lifetime,” Lamm reminded.
“Almost all of those animals suffered at the
hands of ‘rescuers.’
“Shifting gears, the BLM has thousands of
horses who are in longterm holding but have not
reached sale age,” Lamm warned. “I’m concerned
that if we somehow manage to successfully absorb
all the current sale horses, some folks will
say, ‘See, that wasn’t so bad,’ and drop the
sale age down to five or six. We need to be
visibly engaged in a strategy for these
‘middle-aged’ horses.”
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. vice
president for legislation Mike Markarian, “We’re
not in the position of privately funding new
sanctuaries to clean up the government’s mess.
We need the BLM to let the wild horses roam
freely on the public lands. The public lands
should be viewed as sanctuaries for these
horses,” Markarian told Smantha Young of the Las
Vegas Review-Journal.
Merle Edsall
“We have sanctuaries ready to go on line
on the Crow Reservation in Montana and in the
grasslands of Sonora, Mexico,” Montana rancher
Merle Edsall wrote to Conrad Burns on March 21.
“Our agent in Texas was able to obtain an
electronic copy of Merle Edsall’s letter to
Senator Burns,” Lamm explained before making it
Edsall in 2002 proposed to relocate up to
10,000 BLM horses to the northern Sonora desert
in Mexico. This very dry region, which already
has a small wild horse population, is heavily
traveled by would-be illegal immigrants to the
U.S. and the “people-smugglers” who help them
cross the border.
Partners in the horses-to-Mexico scheme
included retired McDonnell-Douglas vice president
Philip Edsall, Sonora rancher Humberto Hoyhos,
and Johannes von Trapp, one of the younger
members of the family whose story was told in the
1963 film The Sound of Music, who went on to
build the Stowe ski resort in northern Vermont.
National Wild Horse and Burro Program
group manager John Fend stalled the Edsall scheme
in August 2002 by advising that moving horses to
Mexico would illegally remove them from the
protection of the 1971 Wild and Free Ranging
Horse and Burro Act, and would therefore require
Congressional action to implement.
The Burns amendment was the requisite Congressional action.
“Mr. Edsall’s plan seems like a benign
solution to rancher/mustang conflicts on the
surface. The likely outcome is much grimmer,”
opined the Humane Society of the U.S. in a 2002
alert. “In 2001, 626,000 horses were
slaughtered in Mexico,” HSUS noted.
“Edsall says he wants to build a wild
horse tourist attraction,” summarized Deanne
Stillman in the February 16, 2005 edition of
Slate, “but once they move south of the border,
it would be impossible to monitor what happens to
them. Edsall may also have influenced the Burns
rider,” Stillman wrote. “The language in the
Burns rider was the exact same wording floated by
Edsall at a meeting of the BLM’s Wild Horse and
Burro Advisory Board in February 2004 in Phoenix.”
Edsall in his March 21 letter to Burns
began by complaining that the BLM is spending too
much time and money trying to place horses with
adoption groups instead of simply selling them to
“Many of us believe a new ‘adoption’ program was
not the intent of the sale authority
legislation,” Edsall wrote.
Edsall told Burns that he had notified
BLM wild horse program manager Jeff Rawson that
his partnership would “buy all remaining eligible
horses on the condition BLM pay the holding costs
for one year.”
That would require the BLM to pay Edsall
close to $2 million if the horses were kept on
the Crow Reservation, or about $1 million if
they were divided between the Crow Reservation
and Sonora, based on estimates that Edsall gave
to Perry Backus of the Montana Standard.
“The savings over the present $1.25 [per
horse day] paid for long-term facilities funded
by BLM is obvious,” said Edsall.
At the per day cost of keeping a horse of
less than 75¢ projected by Edsall, the profit
potential per horse at the present slaughter
auction price of about $1.00 per pound would be
close to $1,000.
“Our deal with the Crow is dead,” Edsall
told the Billings Gazette on March 31, after the
BLM refused to be stampeded into selling horses
to him.
“Edsall and his company, ETH Inc., had
signed a letter of intent with the Crow tribe in
February to pay the tribe more than $1 million
per year to look after 4,000 wild horses.,” the
Billings Gazette reported.
Hardly anyone believed Edsall had
actually lost interest in horsetrading.

Slaughter link

“Due to the public’s outcry against a
perceived ‘slaughter’ authority,” Edsall
continued to Burns, “many people in the West are
fearful of legislation in the House and Senate,”
specifically HR 503, the American Horse Slaughter
Prevention Act, “which threatens to eliminate
the horse packing industry. The projected impact
of this action will cost the private sector $124
million the first year,” Edsall claimed, “and
will increase astronomically each year
thereafter. The effect on the sales of horses of
all breeds is incalculable, as is the effect on
the wild horse adoption program.
“As you are aware,” Edsall continued,
“I spoke with Nevada Senator John Ensign’s office
regarding a western constituency which desires to
support legislation to halt such a threat.
Senator Ensign’s bill addresses banning horsemeat
used for human consumption, a conciliation which
should be offered to the American public,”
Edsall said.
The Ensign bill has not yet been
introduced. Ensign introduced an unsuccessful
attempt to repeal the Burns amendment late in the
last Congress.
“We feel the momentum for humane
legislation will assist in the passage of the
Montana disposable lands action (MDLA),” Edsall
added, “which we hope to join to this
legislative proposal. Each bill is a component
of action required to ‘save wild horses.'”
The “Montana disposable lands action” is
a bill to authorize the sale of BLM-leased
federal grazing land to the current leaseholders,
who often pay much less for grazing rights that
the estimated free market value.
Thus the Edsall “save wild horses’ scheme
would convey horses, land, and funding to a
handful of established landholders, who then
might sell the horses, or their foals.
“We have assured the Montana Governor’s
office of a desire for our company to provide
opportunities for other tribes,” Edsall went on
to Burns. “Reno Charette, the Director of Indian
Affairs, has requested that I speak with all the
tribal leaders of Montana in Governor
Schweitzer’s office on March 23,” Edsall said.
“This presentation is timely for the newly formed
Montana Bureau of Indian Tourism. BIA regional
director Keith Beartusk has stated that the Wind
River Reservation in Wyoming will also be a site
which may offer a large expanse of land.
“Like the Sonora business plan states,
any sanctuaries which we propose with the Indian
Nations will also have tourism and internet
adoption components,” Edsall said.
Noted Lamm, “This letter may be an
interesting reference point,” especially “if
Senator Burns again denies any involvement with
Mr. Edsall.”

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