SALT LAKE CITY — An investigation is underway to find out if 17 hundred wild horses were illegally shipped off to slaughter.
That number was confirmed for the first time today amidst demands for an immediate halt to roundups on public land.
Wild horse lovers accuse the BLM of driving them to extinction while turning a blind eye to their slaughter for horse meat. The BLM countered they're stepping up roundups because the horses are facing disaster.
They're an icon of the West. But they're threatened by extreme pressure from drought and wildfires, the BLM says, so they can't be left out on the range to die.
"It would be an ecological and, I think, a social disaster," said Edwin Roberson, Assistant Director at the Bureau of Land Management.
These animals are being managed to extinction. There is no doubt about it,
–Ginger Kathrens, Cloud Foundation
The government's top wild horse people are meeting in Salt Lake. Their critics turned up the heat at a news conference.
"Cease and desist all roundups now," demanded Simone Netherlands of Respect4Horses.
"These animals are being managed to extinction. There is no doubt about it," added Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation.
BLM officials say they're required by law to protect the horses, even if it means putting them in long-term holding corrals. But critics want the horses left alone. They claim the BLM is doing the bidding of the ranching, mining and energy industry.
"These are our taxpayer dollars that are funding this unspeakable cruelty," said Netherlands.
But the BLM says Nature has been cruel, especially in Nevada.
"There was very little forage for the winter, and all the summer forage was gone," offered Roberson.
Critics are angry that the BLM sold 1700 horses to a single buyer who may have shipped them to slaughter in Mexico.
"I can confirm right now that the inspector general of the Department of Interior is investigating," said Roberson, "(and) has an ongoing investigation into those allegations. Beyond that, I can't comment."
"There will be no peace until those individuals are behind bars in long-term holding corrals of their own construction, and then we'll see how they like it," said R.T. Fitch of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation.
So far, the drought-related roundups have been concentrated in Nevada. But the BLM has just approved one in western Utah about a month from now.