The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is improperly paying some prisons to train and hold wild horses that were removed from federal lands, according to an internal Department of the Interior (DOI) investigation.
“BLM State offices have entered into cooperative agreements for horse training programs at correctional institutions, some of which do not comply with Federal law,” the DOI inspector general reported.
The IG reported that the “horse training programs were initiated under cooperative agreements for inmates to train horses and to provide holding only for those horses,” but some agreements with prisons weren’t even training horses and others were over-billing the government.
The IG’s report broadly focused on mismanagement of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program that’s in place to keep wild horse and burro populations on federal lands in check.
But that’s not what’s happening. The IG found BLM has “no strategic plan” to manage wild horse and burro populations, which are growing at a rate of up to 20 percent a year and over-grazing lands.
BLM is supposed to round up the excess horse and burro population and put them into corrals or put them up for adoption. The agency “drastically decreased gathers in recent years as it cannot afford to pay for additional off-range holding” despite the program’s $80 million a year budget.
“As a result, the current wild horse and burro population is double that of the appropriate management level (AML), which is the number of wild horses and burros that can thrive in balance with other public land resources and uses,” the IG reported.
Republican lawmakers and activists criticize BLM’s mismanagement of the wild horse program, which has resulted in horses dying of starvation and dehydration because there are too many animals grazing at once.
“These pictures we saw … remind me of the newspaper stories and pictures that we often see of animal control raids on homes that house scores and sometimes hundreds of neglected, starving, dying animals, the difference being these animals are under our care,” said California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock in a June, 2016, hearing.
One solution to overgrazing is to kill off some wild horses and donkeys, but animal rights and environmental activists have vehemently opposed this idea. Some fear the BLM is already planning to kill thousands of 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’s Kevin Daley in June.
Getting rid of off-range holding agreements that aren’t cost-effective is one solution recommend by the IG report.
Some prisons “hold horses that are not currently being trained and have no training potential,” according to the IG. “These correctional institutions are therefore serving as short-term corral holding facilities in addition to training operations.”
“For the short-term corral holding function, the appropriate financial instrument would be a contract rather than a cooperative agreement,” investigators noted. “BLM is using cooperative agreements with correctional institutions that have a holding component inappropriately to obtain services and is not in compliance with Federal laws and regulations.”
The IG also found some prisons were improperly billing the government for costs they incurred. Investigators noted “cooperative agreements between governmental entities must be based on cost reimbursement of actual expenses incurred.”
When auditors looked into Utah Correctional Industries in 2013, they found “the cooperative agreement in place provided for reimbursement using a specified rate (per-horse-per-day), instead of providing for reimbursement of actual costs in accordance with” federal law.
“Similarly, in our visit to the correctional institution in Carson City, NV, we found that BLM pays a changing per-horse-per-day rate based on preset ranges for population and hay purchase price rather than actual costs,” auditors noted, “resulting in inaccurate or inflated claims for reimbursement and allowing for potential profits, which are not allowed under a cooperative agreement.”
The Carson City prison also got a “predetermined training fee for each horse that was adopted, creating another opportunity for profit under a cooperative agreement.”
The IG did note that since they issued their report, BLM “procurement and grants and agreement officials for the Wild Horse and Burro Program have recognized the need to transition correctional institutions with holding facilities to contracts.”
“BLM recently entered into a cooperative agreement with Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, CA, that is strictly cost reimbursable and does not allow for holding of horse populations beyond the horses in the training program,” the IG reported.
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