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Published September 15, 2010, 11:54 AM

Nevada wild horse advocates call for investigation

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

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

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports 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 auctioned were abandoned domestic horses, not mustangs. The 1971 law that protects established herds of free- roaming mustangs do 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 eventual 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 mustang herds or domestic strays. Starr and other advocates contend the BLM makes decisions subjectively and can remove federal protection any time its expedient.

“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. The rest, she said, shared the physical characteristics of a federally-protected wild band.

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

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.

“For planning and budgeting purposes, BLM included the estray horses within Pilot Valley as being within the Toano Herd Area so as to include them in the gather and contracting schedule,” Fuell said. “To the public, this may seem as if the BLM is counting them as wild horses, but they are not wild.”

Fuell said the mistake is rare.

Starr said she will pursue DNA testing on the animals to prove the horses were from a federally-protected herd that likely wandered off a BLM range into the Pilot Valley area.

Fuell counters that such migration isn’t likely because horses won’t cross highways or railroad tracks. Genetic tests would not prove useful, Fuell added.

“Wild horses in general compare to other horses at a rate Advertisement of something like 98 percent, so it would be hard to conclusively state the Pilot Valley estray horses are from wild horse origin without clear genetic markers of the original Toano herd,” he said.

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