DENVER — Federal officials improperly sold more than 1,700 wild horses to a man who illegally sent them to Mexico to be slaughtered for meat instead of turning them out to pasture as promised, a new report says.

Colorado-based workers with the Bureau of Land Management allowed livestock hauler Tom Davis to buy nearly 1,800 wild horses rounded up from public lands between 2008-20012, paying about $10 each. He admitted he then turned around and sold the horses to be slaughtered in Mexico, earning thousands of dollars in profits, the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General found.

“Davis opined that in selling him so many loads of horses, BLM had to know that the horses would end up at a slaughterhouse,” investigators wrote.

BLM workers said Davis, a Coloradan, repeatedly assured them he was buying the horses as part of a tax write-off for wealthy friends, and that he promised them the horses wouldn’t be sent to slaughter. The Inspector General’s report said BLM officials looked into complaints made about Davis but never found any evidence he was breaking his promise.

Wild horses are an iconic symbol of the West, and their handling has long been politically touchy. Land managers say the herds can grow too large for the lands they roam and must be managed through sales or euthanization. But critics have made land mangers nervous enough that they ignored laws allowing them to kill horses or sell them to any willing buyer, calling it “political suicide” to take such actions.

The report also noted that BLM spent more than $140,000 delivering the horses to Davis, the agency’s single-largest buyer of wild horses, which is far less than he paid for the animals.

BLM officials said they have changed their policies, and no charges are being brought against Davis.

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