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Some ended up with Dennis Gifford, a Lovell, Wyo., rancher and ro

January 4, 1997

Some ended up with Dennis Gifford, a Lovell, Wyo., rancher and rodeo contractor who was barred from BLM horse adoptions because he was rounding up wild mustangs illegally and adding them to his private herds. According to court records, he has also been convicted of selling livestock without state brand inspections.

He said he has tried to breed McDarment’s horses for bucking stock, and said he’s sure some of McDarment’s horses were slaughtered.

``They got to end up somewheres,″ Gifford said.

Some of McDarment’s co-workers know where all their animals are. Jim Williams, for example, has leased land and is breeding burros from Arizona that he and his friends adopted. He sold additional horses at an auction to be used for roping cattle. He’s hoping to make several thousand dollars a year off the foals.

``Of course, I want to make money off this,″ said Williams, stomping mud off his boots in a frozen corral.

``Is there anything wrong with that? It’s legal, ain’t it?″ he said.

According to federal law, U.S. government employees are not allowed to use public office for private gain. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics said this means BLM workers may not participate in bureau programs that affect their financial interests.

But Gabriel Paone, the Department of the Interior’s designated ethics official in Washington, D.C., said there is nothing wrong with BLM employees adopting wild horses, keeping them until they get the title, and then selling them for profit.

In fact, an internal BLM memo issued in November, 1995, ``encourages employees to adopt and train wild horses and burros for their personal use.″

``They’re not doing this as public officials,″ Paone said. ``They’re doing this as private citizens.″

``There’s a real gray area in the way the law was written as to whether they’re breaking the law or not,″ said Harrington, the BLM spokeswoman in Oklahoma.

So, the adoptions by BLM employees continue.

Michael Woods, a BLM range management specialist in Baker City, Ore., and his wife have adopted four horses since 1992 and sold them all.

One of his horses, a black mare with a star on her face, was rounded up as a foal from the high plains of Eastern Oregon in 1992. According to freeze brand numbers obtained by the AP from the Bouvry Exports Calgary Ltd. slaughterhouse in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, the horse was killed in 1996.

Woods said the mare hurt her leg last year and wasn’t working out as a riding horse, so he sold her.

``I assure you I didn’t intend to sell her for slaughter,″ he said, ``but the only one that was interested in her at the time was a buyer that takes horses to slaughter.″

Woods would not say how much he was paid for the horse, which originally cost him the $125 adoption fee.

The federal government is conducting several reviews of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, with two audits and two reports to Congress expected to be completed in 1997.

``I welcome the scrutiny,″ said Pogacnik, who runs the program out of a converted warehouse in Reno, Nev. ``It can only help.″

Pognacik said he hopes the reports and audits will help him figure out what to do with the 15,600 wild horses and burros the bureau has identified as excess that are now roaming 10 Western states.

That’s on top of more than 1,100 old geldings in an Oklahoma sanctuary that was slated to close years ago, and several thousand more horses awaiting adoption in placement centers across the country.

The BLM has failed to submit legally required biennial reports about the Wild Horse and Burro Program to Congress since 1992. An advisory council on wild horses and burros, required by law, has not convened since President Clinton first took office. BLM officials said it is because they are short of staff.

``We’re here because we care about the critters,″ said Pogacnik. ``They’re a wonderful part of America, and we’re here to protect them. Of course, we’ve got a ways to go.″


EDITOR’S NOTE _ AP News Data Editor Drew Sullivan and Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

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