Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Use of Slaughter Middleman to Dispose of 500 Wild Horses

The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is located in northwestern Nevada on the Oregon border. In September 2012, the Refuge adopted a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) calling for the elimination of wild horses and burros from refuge lands within five years. In August 2013, the Refuge announced that it would remove the estimated 800 wild horses and 90 burros remaining on the Refuge in two years. In September 2013, Sheldon rounded up and removed 415 horses from the Refuge. A second roundup to remove the remaining horses is planned for fall 2014.

Key Problems

  • The FWS has used nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds to funnel horses through a middleman in Mississippi who ultimately sent them to undesirable fates, and possibly slaughter.
  • The FWS is failing to fulfill its Statement of Work to ensure that horses are placed in “good homes and to prevent placement of animals with individuals that have the intention of selling them at auction or for slaughter. (Exhibit 1)
  • The FWS adoption program does not protect Sheldon horses from being abused or sold for slaughter or confirm the whereabouts of horses sold to adoption contractors.
  • The FWS accelerated its wild horse removal plan. Instead of spreading the removals out over five years as outlined by the agency’s CCP, the FWS is removing all horses within two years.

 Background – Facts

  • Between 2010 and 2013, FWS paid “adoption” contractor, Stan Palmer of J&S Associates in Mississippi, $868,136.55 to find homes for 507 wild horses from the Sheldon Refuge. J&S’ method of finding “good homes” for these Sheldon horses has been to give them away by the trailer load. (Exhibit 2)
  • In a March 2013 inspection, FWS was unable to verify the whereabouts of at least 202 of 262 Sheldon horses placed by Palmer between 2010-2012. Palmer failed to provide information on adopters for 65 horses and did not provide adequate care for foals. One adopter who took 82 horses admitted to selling “a bunch” at a livestock auction. (Exhibit 3)
  • In September of 2013, FWS again contracted with J&S, sending them 245 horses. (Exhibit 4)
  • On October 25, 2013, Cody Woods, a J&S employee publicized via Facebook the availability mustangs that were “not branded or tattooed.” The employee noted: “ we are not aloud (sic) to sell them…you show up with your trailer and load ‘em up. . . . Need gone ASAP!!!” (Exhibit 5)
  • Within 25 days of the Facebook post, J&S divested Itself of 187 horses. Adoption applications contained scant and conflicting information that was grossly inadequate to verify that the adopters would in fact provide “good homes” and would not sell the horses “at auction or for slaughter.” One “adopter” even claimed to want the horses for breeding, even though every horse taken by this “adopter” was a gelding (castrated male).  (Exhibit 6)
  • All “adopters” claimed “bucking” stock as the intended use for the horses. However, accredited rodeos do not use wild horses as bucking stock, because bucking horses must be trained for transport, loading into chutes, etc. (Exhibit 7)
  • The FWS failed to confirm the whereabouts of a single horse placed by J&S. Not one of the “adopters” agreed to allow FWS to inspect horses obtained through J&S. Exhibit 6 – notes of FWS site inspection accompanying adoption applications obtained by Ms. Kohleriter from FWS through FOIA.

For more information on the Sheldon horses please click here.