Interior secretary threatens to punch reporter over wild horse question

UPDATE - Secretary Salazar called reporter Dave Philipps to personally apologize for the incident and granted the interview that Philipps had been seeking. More on the story from the AP here.

I didn't know that a Texas man was under investigation for buying 1,700 wild horses and allegedly selling them to a slaughter plant in Mexico.

Until I heard that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week threatened to punch out a reporter for asking about the issue.

Seems Salazar blew up when Dave Philipps, a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, wanted to get the secretary's response to evidence that a Texas man had bought the horses from the Bureau of Land Management and illegally sold them to Mexico where they were killed for their meat.

According to witnesses at the Election Day event in Colorado Springs, after Salazar answered the final questions about the future safety of wild horses and he turned to leave the interview, he unexpectedly moved towards Philipps and advised him, “If you set me up like this again, I’ll punch you out.”

Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of the Cloud Foundation, a Colorado-based wild horse advocacy organization. said she was stunned by the rudeness of the secretary.

“These threats would have been inappropriate coming from anyone, but the fact that it came out of the mouth of the Secretary of the Interior is alarming,” said Kathrens, as reported in the Desert Independent. “I can’t believe that a top official in Obama’s cabinet could be so defensive.”

In a statement issued yesterday, Salazar said he "regrets the exchange."

Salazar, a former member of the U.S. Senate from Colorado, said in 2004 that wild horses "don't belong on federal land." 

With more horses than they can place with adoptive homes, BLM has warehoused the animals in government facilities, leaving many more in captivity with an uncertain fate than roam free.

Wild horse advocates say this leaves remaining herd vulnerable to inbreeding and die-off due to a lack of genetic diversity.

Tom Davis, a livestock hauler and proponent of the horse meat industry has purchased more than 1,700 mustangs from the BLM since 2008 — roughly 70 percent of all horses sold by the agency - signing agreements not to sell them for slaughter.

Yet he shipped 765 horses to farms in Texas near the Mexico border without obtaining proper paperwork from Colorado and is now under investigation by state authorities, according to Philipps' report , done in partnership with Pro Publica.

As horse advocates point out, no one would buy that many untrained horses with a humanitarian purpose. Well, that is, except maybe the wife of one of the world's richest men. Madeleine Pickens has proposed setting up a wild horse and burro sanctuary on 14,000 acres she owns in Nevada. The federal government is going to spend two years studying the proposal. Meanwhile, 40,000 wild horses remain in federal holding pens in the west.

(Photo/Dave Philipps)