Running wild

Rumors abound about wild horse roundups

The Reno-Tahoe tourism website highlghts wild horses as a sight to see in the area.

The Reno-Tahoe tourism website highlghts wild horses as a sight to see in the area.


To read the ProPublica report, visit

Last week, wild horses in Antelope Valley were rounded up as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to control and maintain wild horse population. But Deniz Bolbol, spokesperson for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, wonders why there are no GPS devices or video cameras in the helicopters to show if all of the horses are being rounded up safely. And why roundups are the BLM’s go-to method of wild horse control when methods of birth control and predator maintenance would be more effective, she says.

Bolbol’s questions are not new, given that the BLM’s ethics of horse roundups have been a source of controversy for several years (“They kill wild horses, don’t they?” Oct. 27, 2011). A report run on NBC last week by ProPublica, an investigative journalism project, looked into the surplus of horses kept in long-term holding—where horses go after they are rounded up and haven’t been adopted. The report found that the BLM has been selling horses to kill buyers, who slaughter the horses and sell the meat.

“We knew for a long time, but now we know,” Bolbol says of the report’s claims. “Basically, we’ve heard for years rumors about the BLM and Department of Interior selling wild horses to kill buyers. [They] ship horses to Canada, and this kill buyer sells them to Mexico.”

The kill buyer Bolbol referred to in the ProPublica report is Tom Davis, and BLM records show the agency has sold Davis horses for several years. Davis must sign a no-slaughter contract when he buys the horses, but he has been on the record for years as a supporter of horse slaughter.

The horses are protected under the 1971 Wild-Free Roaming Horses Act, which states, “It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death.”

According to the BLM, the drought is the primary reason for the roundups. Carson City Wild Horse and Burro Program Specialist John Axell says that the tentative schedule for roundups, expected to carry into early 2013, could change if drought conditions worsen for the horses.

“We’ll have to see if the conditions there are worse for some horses that are a greater risk of dying,” Axell says. “Drought has affected some of these areas.”

But Bolbol says that the drought is not considered an emergency, because a drought is not “unforeseeable,” given the frequency of droughts in the region. She says an emergency is the only reason for roundups.

When asked what happens to the horses after roundups, “They go to some short term holding facility, the Palomino Valley Corral in Sparks,” Axell says. “The younger, more adoptable ones are put up for adoption. Older horses are sent to a long term sanctuary in the Midwest, where there are hundreds of acres of grass.”

Bolbol says the Midwest facility is closed to the public, who cannot verify the horses’ living conditions. She says it’s one of many questionable decisions made by the BLM.

“The whole problem starts with the BLM’s mismanagement of this program,” she says. “If they were managed in humane ways and not by removing them, they would not have this stock pile of horses they have today and they would not have to sell them to kill buyers.”