WASHINGTON — A federal judge has asked the Bureau of Land Management to tell him the number of adopted wild horses sold for slaughter despite their new owners' pledges to care for the animals.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben also asked the BLM to disclose how many of those cases agency officials recommended for prosecution. Those who adopt wild horses are required to sign a statement saying they do not plan to sell them to a slaughterhouse; someone who violated that pledge could be prosecuted for making a false statement to the government.
Justice Department lawyer Lyn Jacobs, representing the BLM, said federal officials are prosecuting one person for fraud for allegedly selling a wild horse after signing the no-sale pledge.
A lawyer for an animal rights group that has criticized the BLM wild horse policy said the agency needs to be tougher on those who sell wild horses to slaughterhouses that send horse meat overseas for people to eat.
"No one is suggesting that hundreds of people are going to be prosecuted for these kinds of abuses," Howard Crystal, a lawyer for the Fund for Animals, said Tuesday. "But if you go prosecute a few people, it will let folks know that if they break the law, something will happen to them."
The BLM has said more than 500 wild horses have ended up in slaughterhouses since the agency began requiring the no-sale pledges two years ago.
The BLM takes horses from overgrazed areas of federal land in the West and lets people adopt them for as little as $125. They can claim title to the horses after one year. Congress set up the adoption process in the 1970s after animal rights groups complained that thousands of wild horses were being rounded up and sold to slaughterhouses.
McKibben said at a hearing Nov. 29 that there don't appear to have been substantial BLM violations of the accord. But the judge did say he believes that the agency is dragging its feet.