A herd of Wyoming horses will soon be headed to a Canadian slaughterhouse after the Bureau of Land Management seized the animals and sold them across the border, sparking a new controversy for the federal agency that recently gained notoriety for its siege on Nevada ranchers. The sale has outraged animal-rights activists, who are now looking to reverse the decision.
The question determining the horses’ fate is whether they are classified as “roaming” or “abandoned.” Even though the horses have been in the area for decades, the BLM claims the horses fall in to the latter category and are therefore not protected wild, free-roaming horses.
According to the agency, the horses descend from a group previously owned by a local rancher, Andy Gifford. In the 1970s, a group of his horses strayed. Gifford said he would round them up, but he never got around to it before passing away in 2009.
As a result of their heritage, the horses were not deemed wild horses and would not be protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Under BLM rules, wild horses cannot be sold for slaughter, according to the Associated Press.
A BLM spokeswoman said that the agency rounded up the horses because “nobody had a permit to have these horses grazing on public lands.”
As a result, the Bureau gathered the 41 horses over a two-day period last month. Hours later, the horses were sold to Bouvry Exports in Calgary in an auction for a total of $1,640.
The BLM’s actions in Wyoming come just a week after the government began seizing Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle for grazing on public land without paying fees. The legal conflict evolved into a standoff between armed government agents and Bundy supporters before the BLM eventually backed down and returned the cattle.
The situation in Wyoming hasn’t escalated to an armed standoff, but critics are speaking out against the BLM’s approach. Advocates claim that the greater public was not given sufficient time and warning to get involved in the process, in either the round-up stages or the sale of the horses.
“It would take very little to do this in a more effective way so that horses are not just sent off to slaughter indiscriminately,” Paula Todd King of The Cloud Foundation, an advocacy group for wild horses, told the AP. The BLM claims it announced the round-up in local newspapers and on notices at the post office.
Nonetheless, King and others question whether the horses should have been gathered in the first place, rather than left free to roam the Bighorn Basin.
“How long does a horse have to live wild and free before it’s considered ‘wild?’” she asked.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.