The Interior Department ordered an investigation Tuesday into whether government employees were profiting from a federal wild horse protection program, including selling some of the animals to slaughterhouses.
The Interior investigation, as well as a senator saying he might ask for congressional hearings, was prompted by an Associated Press report outlining abuses of the wild horse and burro protection program.
The 25-year-old program is administered by the Bureau of Land Management with the aim of finding people to adopt wild horses that roam the thousands of acres of federal rangeland across the West. More than 150,000 animals have been adopted since 1973.
“If it is found that a BLM employee or other horse adopter has been involved in criminal violations, the investigation will be promptly turned over to the appropriate U.S. attorney’s office,” said Bob Armstrong, assistant secretary for land and minerals.
Meanwhile, Armstrong’s deputy, Sylvia Baca, was named Tuesday as interim BLM director, replacing Michael Dombeck, who will head the U.S. Forest Service.
According to a review of records and interviews with BLM officials, at least 57 adopted horses have been sold to U.S. and Canadian slaughterhouses since September, a fourth of them less than 5 years old.
A comparison of computer records also showed more than 200 BLM employees have adopted 600 animals under the program and some of the employees, when contacted, could not account for the animals.
Armstrong said the adoption program, on which the government is spending $16 million this year, “assures the protection of healthy wild herds, while providing homes to those animals that cannot adequately survive in the wild.”
But the AP investigation revealed that often people who have adopted horses - including BLM employees could not account for them and that many horses have ended up in slaughterhouses for a profit.