WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have drafted a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that says they are “troubled” by his handling of the federal wild-horse program.
The letter notes that a wild-horse advocacy organization sent Salazar the signatures of 25,130 citizens to inquire about the department’s investigation into whether a southwestern Colorado man sold more than 1,700 federally-protected wild horses to Mexican kill buyers. The interest group has not heard from Salazar and would like a response, it adds.
“We are troubled by your Department’s lack of response to the legitimate concerns raised by the American Wild Horse Protection Campaign’s inquiry and your failure to acknowledge that correspondence,” the letter says.
Salazar’s spokesman did not respond to two e-mail requests for comment about the letter.
Advocates for mustangs and burros on federally-owned lands have criticized Salazar as a lax steward of the animals. They say the Bureau of Land Management, which is an agency within the Interior Department, cannot account for the whereabouts of the wild horses that Tom Davis bought. Thirty-five thousand wild horses and burros graze and roam on federal land, most of which is in 10 Western states, including Colorado.
The online newspaper Pro Publica reported last year that Davis suggested he approved of selling wild horses to slaughterhouses and admitted he had shipped the horses out of state in violation of brand inspection laws.
In response to the story and subsequent stories, the inspector general of the Interior Department announced it had launched a probe of Davis’ sales. Selling the beasts to kill buyers is a federal offense and punishable by a fine and jail time.
Nearly all of the 1,700 wild horses Davis has purchased from the Bureau of Land Management have coincided with Salazar’s tenure as Secretary of the Interior Department. The two men have ties. As TCO has reported, one of Salazar’s brothers confirmed that Davis had hauled horses from Salazar’s family ranch across the mountains.
Salazar said he has no memory of speaking with Davis, but he has vowed to investigate the charges against him. “When I became aware of the magnitude of his purchases and the concerns of illegal activity, I asked the BLM to open an investigation into Tom Davis,” he told The Colorado Springs Gazette in December.
Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) drew up a draft of the letter, whose contents media outlets reported last week. An aide to Whitfield said the missive would be sent to Salazar next week. Several members have reportedly signed on to the letter, including Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder).
Whitfield, whose district in central Kentucky includes Kentucky Downs, indicated that Salazar has failed to crack down on ranchers who want the wild horses off federal property. “We know how the process goes, and we know how they sweep this under the rug,” he said in an interview Monday.
Whitfield also indicated he was troubled by the ties between Salazar and Davis.”The optics were not good,” he said.
Salazar has said he will leave his post at the end of March.