Officials at the Bureau of Land Management had a tough week after attacks from forces inside and outside Washington.
The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General released the findings Wednesday of a corruption probe implicating former BLM Director Bob Abbey in a scheme to profit off of the sale of federal land in Nevada.
The report found Abbey attempted to leverage his office to facilitate the sale of 480 acres of federal land in Henderson, Nevada to developer Chris Milam, who planned to build a sports stadium. Milam promised he would pay a $528,000 “success fee” to Abbey’s consulting firm on the close of the sale.
The deal was never concluded. Clark County sued Milam and settled in 2013 on the condition he pay the city $4.5 million and never again do business in Henderson. Abbey left office in 2012. The inquiry also found that Abbey’s associates had “an unusually high level of access to BLM personnel and processes before and during the Henderson land sale,” and that realty specialists gave Milam’s land applications precedence when he did business with the agency.
In September 2015, the IG brought the case to Nevada’s U.S. Attorney, who declined to pursue criminal charges. Details of the investigation were released to Congress just this week, prompting scathing criticism from Capitol Hill.
“These are troubling findings, and serve as further evidence of exacerbating corruption within the Department of the Interior,” Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert wrote in a letter to Interior’s Deputy Inspector General. (RELATED: Rep. Gohmert: ‘Evidence of Exacerbating Corruption’ At Interior Dept)
Outside Washington, animal rights activists continued organizing in opposition to a new BLM program, which they fear will lead to a massive culling of wild horses and burros in federal facilities.
At issue is a new policy initiative to more efficiently facilitate the transfer of wild horses and burros in BLM custody. Language in the proposed BLM budget for 2017 allows the agency to transfer horses to local, state, or federal entities who have need for “domestic work animals.”
Activists say the new language is imprecise, as the phrase “domestic work animals” is not sufficiently defined. They argue that the ambiguity of the clause, and the soaring number of horses and burros in BLM custody, provides the agency the prerogative to sell to so called “kill buyers” or slaughterhouses. There are nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros currently in BLM custody as the population of such animals on federal lands continues to climb. (RELATED: How BLM’s Latest Policy Initiatives May Open The Door To The Mass Slaughter Of Wild Horses)
“It’s an end run around the current Congressional prohibition on selling wild horses and burros for slaughter and a pathway into the slaughter pipeline for potentially thousands of wild horses and burros who are currently protected under federal law,” Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Roy says the new language and soaring number of captive horses and burros in BLM facilities are precipitating new policy conditions whose end game “appears to be legalizing slaughter as a management solution.”
A BLM spokesperson denied the accusation. “The U.S. Border Patrol uses nearly 300 wild horses for their patrols of the Mexican and Canadian borders, but each of these animals had to be adopted by individual agents in their personal capacity because BLM doesn’t have the legal authority to convey horses directly to other agencies,” spokesperson Kimberly Brubeck said. “We’d like to fix that.” She also said BLM horses support and provide a wide range of public services, including participation in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
Activists have also trained eyes on a BLM facility in Oregon, which may host research experiments on wild horse spay methods they call inhumane. While BLM has yet to issue a final decision regarding the research, organizers say they expect a decision, and more controversy, in the near future.
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