LAS VEGAS - Wild horse advocates are calling for a formal investigation into the shooting deaths of eight mustangs who were killed in northern Nevada.
It's a story the 8 News NOW has been following closely. The I-Team first reported last week that the horses were shot by employees of the Bureau of Land Management in what the agency describes as "humane euthanasia."
However, people in the area where the horses' bodies were found said there was nothing humane about the shootings.
The I-Team has been asking the BLM about the incident since right after it happened on a Nevada ranch owned by Madeleine Pickens in late August.
The bureau didn't seem to know what the I-Team was talking about then, but the denials are now over.
The BLM sent an email Wednesday saying:
"Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policy permits humane euthanasia as a last resort in instances where wild horses and burros are too sick to be transported. In this case, BLM personnel were conducting an emergency gather of horses suffering from severe dehydration and starvation.
Agency personnel determined that eight horses were in such severe condition and suffering that they could not be saved, nor transported.
BLM has a strict policy for euthanasia by firearms. We are saddened that these horses had to be put down in this manner and will continue to gather facts to help prevent this outcome in the future."
The agency also sent a photo of the emaciated looking horses.
WARNING: The image is graphic, and may be disturbing to some audiences.
Although the BLM said the horses' severe condition made it so the agency couldn't transport them to save them -- so euthanasia was used as a last resort -- it's the way the horses were put down that raised questions.
"This is shocking; shocking that a government agency would be involved in this," said Jerry Reynoldson, an advocate for wild horses.
The horrific photos of gut-shot mustangs, piled into a heap by the same BLM team that gunned them down in late August, stunned Reynoldson, even though he's seen thirty years of what he calls 'callous disregard for wild horses' within the agency designated by law to protect the herds.
Reynoldson says there is no possible excuse for shooting so many horses, so many times, in their backs, stomachs, and elsewhere. He says the horses' deaths must have been slow and agonizing.
"It's probably as inhumane as anything I can imagine," said Reynoldson. "There are so many other ways to approach this. They are professionals at trapping horses, and there were multiple ways they could have trapped these horses. They could have lured them away from that spot fairly easily if they wanted to," he said.
The eight horses were shot during what the BLM called an emergency roundup in Elko County. When they were rounded up and shot, they were on land owned by businesswoman Madeleine Pickens.
Reynoldson was an advisor to Pickens when she purchased two Nevada ranches then invested $25 million in creating Mustang Monument, a wild horse eco-sanctuary that Pickens hoped would be a model for the BLM: A partnership with private landowners where mustangs could run free on the same ranges where the first horses on earth evolved.
Instead, the BLM has battled Pickens at every turn. Her tourist attraction is now closed to the public.
For two years, she's sought BLM permission to repair Boone Spring and provide water for wild horses, but the Bureau of Land Management said no.
The agency also said no to emergency measures she proposed, and when Pickens confronted BLM managers at the scene of the shootings, they sidestepped questions about what they'd already done.
"She didn't want to admit it. I asked her, 'what's going on here?' She said nothing. 'So, nothing I need to know about?' 'Nope; nothing.' I said 'there are dead horses.' She said, 'Oh?' Then they turned around," Pickens said.
Reynoldson, who tried to work with BLM as both a U.S. Senate staffer and as an advocate for wild horse adoptions, worries that for the BLM to do something as audacious as shooting mustangs -- it might be an omen of even worse things to come.
"When you see a single action like this, it's because they've become emboldened by what they are hearing behind closed doors and the silence -- the direction they're getting -- its okay to go ahead; take more extreme measures, and this is the new normal," Reynoldson said.
The I-Team has filed a formal request for all documents related to the incident.
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