BLM announces changes to wild horse Adoption Incentive Program

/ In The News, News

Photo taken at RTF’s San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary by GP Walsh Photography.

Return to Freedom appreciates that in response to concerns expressed by us and other advocates, the public and members of Congress, the Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday announced additional changes to its wild horse and burro Adoption Incentive Program (AIP).

In 2019, BLM launched the program in which adopters were given $500 within 60 days of adoption and another $500 within 60 days of receiving title (about one year later).

The Adoption Incentive Program immediately raised serious concerns from RTF and others about whether increased numbers of wild horses and burros would end up with owners who can’t afford their care after title is passed, then wind up in auction yards and the foreign slaughter pipeline. An investigation by The New York Times found that there were adopters pocketing the incentive, then selling wild horses at auctions where known kill buyers were waiting.

In response to concerns from the public and members of Congress, BLM announced today that it will now:

–make full incentive payments within 60 days of the adopter receiving title rather than paying half upfront,

–raise the adoption fee from $25 to $125 per animal,

–require that title applications will have to be signed by a veterinarian or BLM-authorized officer for the adopter to receive the incentive payment (a change first announced in July 2021, though at that time BLM said that only veterinarians would certify title applications),

–require compliance inspections within six months of adoption, rather than at 12 months (a change first announced in July 2021).

BLM’s changes still fall short of what we believe is needed. We have called for: AIP to be halted, at least until the end of a thorough outside investigation, most cash bonuses to be eliminated, and safeguards put into place to better protect wild horses and burros that once freely roamed our public lands from falling into the slaughter pipeline.

BLM said in its press release today that it will also hold stakeholder meetings to consider non-cash incentives. Return to Freedom has been a strong proponent of replacing cash incentives with vouchers to help with veterinary care or training.

Cash incentives can be very helpful for proven nonprofit rescue and sanctuary organizations in good standing. Sanctuaries and rescues are often take more than one or two animals and could benefit from compensation, which covers transportation and feed costs.

We also believe a well-researched database of unsafe adopters should be created to prevent them from participating in the program.

Other changes made to AIP in July 2021 included:

–ensuring all adoption applications and agreements state that the adopter must provide humane care and require the adopter to certify that they will not knowingly sell or transfer ownership of an adopted animal to any person or organization that intends to resell, trade or give away the animals for slaughter,

–improving the screening of adoption applicants to better ensure that ineligible individuals are identified and excluded from participating in the adoption program,

–and “continuing” to refer cases to relevant U.S. Attorneys for potential violations of the law for making false or misleading statements on adoption and title applications and agreements.

BLM will continue to limit adopters to four animals within 12 months and to prohibit the transfer of title for at least 12 months after the adoption date.

BLM created AIP with the goal of reducing the cost of off-range holding, which last year cost taxpayers $72.4 million (64% of the agency’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget).

According to the agency, it costs an average of $1,850 per year to care for a wild horse or burro in a corral. As of December 2021, 59,007 wild horses and burros were in off-range holding facilities, with 20,097 in corrals and the balance in leased or public pastures.

BLM placed 8,637 animals with adopters in Fiscal Year 2021, the most animals adopted in 24 years.

TAKE ACTION: Call for an outside investigation of the Adoption Incentive Program