DENVER Nov 14 U.S. Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar apologized on Wednesday to a Colorado newspaper reporter
whom he had threatened to punch after being asked about the
federal government's management of wild horse herds in the
The dust-up occurred on Nov. 6, while Salazar was attending
an election night campaign event for President Barack Obama in
Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Dave Philipps approached
the cabinet secretary to ask him about a controversial program
under the Bureau of Land Management, an Interior Department
agency, to control wild horses and burros on federally owned
According to an audio clip of the incident posted on the
Gazette's website, Salazar can be heard taking umbrage at the
question, saying it was not the time or place to discuss public
policy issues and accusing the reporter of having "set me up."
"You know what, if you do that again to me I'll punch you
out, OK?" Salazar told Philipps, who said he had tried numerous
times without success to pin down the secretary for an interview
about his wild horse policies.
On Wednesday, Salazar called Philipps by telephone, and sent
a letter apologizing for the incident, which the Gazette posted
on its website.
"As I said to you by phone today, I apologize and regret the
statement I said to you," the letter said. "I also will be happy
to speak with you officially on ... the wild horse and burro
Philipps has done extensive reporting on southern Colorado
rancher Tom Davis, a proponent of horse slaughtering, who has
purchased 1,700 wild horses from the government but has not
revealed the animals' fate. Phillips also has reported that
Davis has a longstanding relationship with Salazar's family.
Animal rights groups have been critical of Salazar's
handling of an estimated 37,300 free-roaming horses and burros
on public lands, saying the BLM's policy of rounding up mustangs
and sterilizing some captured stallions is inhumane.
One of those critics, documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens,
witnessed the exchange between Salazar and Phillips.
"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," Kathrens told Reuters.
A Colorado native, Salazar previously served as Colorado's
attorney general and later was elected to the U.S. Senate before
Obama tapped him as interior secretary in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve
Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)