Why did Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Election Day threaten to “punch out” a Colorado newspaper reporter?
Probably because the reporter, Dave Philipps, now of the Colorado Springs Gazette, knew too much, mostly from a two hour interview last spring with Salazar’s neighbor Tom Davis of La Jara, CO. Davis has farmed Salazar’s land and hauled Salazar’s livestock.
In an over-the-phone application in 2008, Davis qualified as a buyer of wild horses from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the Interior Department, and purchased 36 wild horses for use in movies.
But once his old neighbor became Secretary of the Interior, Davis became a “go to” purchaser of wild horses from the BLM. Those who work to protect wild horses call Davis “a killer buyer.”
Once numbered in the millions, wild horses in the West saw their numbers decline to just 17,000 before Congress gave them protection in 1971. Since then, the population has exploded, leaving BLM rounding up 9,400 horses a year to keep a wild herd of about 35,000. But the difficulty of finding homes for that many horses has left BLM with as many or more captive horses as it has wild.
Also figuring into the mix is the 2007 ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. As a result, exports of horses for slaughter to Mexico are up 660 percent. The ban was lifted a year ago, but so far no one has found the combination of financing and location to resume horse slaughter inside the U.S. which, if it does resume, requires inspection by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Philipps wrote an article last Sept. 28 for the ProPublica news site that documented Davis purchased 560 wild horses in 2009, 332 in 2010, another 599 in 2011 and 239 in the first four months of 2012.
Now wild horses from federal lands cannot be legally purchased for the purpose of exporting them for slaughter to either Canada or Mexico.
Yet Davis is in that business, and he spoke to Philipps enthusiastically about slaughtering horses.
“Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt,” he told Philipps. “What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?”
Davis has sought financing—without success—to build a horse slaughter facility in Colorado, and is known for purchasing horses for slaughter from Indian reservations. Those sales carry no restrictions against slaughter.
But Philipps, using Colorado branding records, could not account for all the wild horses Davis purchased from BLM, raising the possibility they’d been shipped out of the country for slaughter.
Before writing the original article that covered almost 50 years of wild horse policy, Philipps went through channels at the Interior Department for a chance to speak with Salazar. When that access was declined, ProPublica published the article, but Philipps did not give up on getting some face time with Salazar, who is a former Colorado Attorney General and U.S. Senator.
On election day, that opportunity presented itself as Salazar visited the Colorado Springs area on “personal time” to campaign for President Obama. The Secretary appeared at a public event at the Obama campaign headquarters in the nearby town of Fountain, CO.
In a audio tape recording, Philipps can clearly be heard identifying himself as a reporter, asking if he can ask a couple of questions, and proceeding with a couple of warming questions before he asks about Davis. Salazar gives curt answers and the entire interview lasts only about 3 minutes.
When it was over, Salazar – a lawyer and his state’s one time chief law enforcement officer – said, “If you set me up like this again, I’ll punch you out.”
In addition to both audio and video recordings, Salazer’s threat to do bodily harm was heard by at least one witness: Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of the Cloud Foundation, a group favoring wild horses on public lands.
Philipps’ newspaper hadn’t disclosed the Nov. 6 threat, using it instead as leverage for getting an interview with the Secretary. But the Cloud Foundation went public with it on Nov. 12, calling the threat a “rude and clearly hostile comment.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, its reporter took a telephone call from Secretary Salazar.
“I want you to hear me loud and clear. I shouldn’t have said that,” Salazar told Philipps. “To tell the truth, the wild horse issue has been the most difficult issue we have dealt with. We’ve had hundreds of meetings on it and there are still a lot of problems.”
Salazar also penned a letter of apology where he promises to talk with Philipps about the wild horse issue.
Earlier, his office had merely said: “the secretary regrets the exchange.”© Food Safety News