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Horse advocates urge probe of slaughter claims

RENO — Wild horse advocates are calling for a federal investigation into allegations that the Bureau of Land Management sold 172 of the animals to slaughter houses.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported the horses were rounded up by the BLM in the Pilot Valley near Wendover and auctioned off in July. By law, federally protected horses can’t be sold for slaughter.

BLM officials say the animals were abandoned domestic horses, not wild horses. The 1971 law that protects established herds of free-roaming wild horses does not apply to “estrays,” or feral domestic horses and their offspring.

Federally protected wild horses can’t be legally sold for food, but estrays can be sold for slaughter in Mexico or Canada.

Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue President Jill Starr said the BLM has no scientific basis for determining whether free-roaming horses are descendants of established wild horse herds or domestic strays. Starr and other advocates contend the BLM makes decisions subjectively .

“It doesn’t take a biologist to know that these are not ranch horses gone wild,” said Starr, who bought 169 horses at the auction. “The BLM just called them estrays to take away their protection.”

Starr said BLM officials are “making up the rules as they go along.” She contends that only 30 of the 172 captured horses were clearly abandoned ranch animals or their offspring.

BLM records show all wild horses in the Toano Herd Area near Pilot Valley were rounded up in 1993. Yet census lists from 2009 show the herd area had 168 protected animals. Some were among the 172 estrays gathered in July, the BLM has said.

The agency concedes, however, that the census data in­correctly listed the horses as wild and says it is confident that only estrays were sent to auction.

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