RTF: Wild horse Adoption Incentive Program should be suspended, investigated

/ Staff Blog

By Cory Golden

Following the publication of a New York Times story confirming the worst suspicions of wild horse advocates, the Bureau of Land Management should shut down its Adoption Incentive Program at the very least until a thorough investigation has been conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General.

The Times story alleges that an Arkansas family received $1,000-a-head from BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program, then sold wild horses for $20,000 at a Texas auction yard frequented by kill buyers, who buy horses on the cheap and ship them over the border to be slaughtered.

In March 2019, the BLM launched an Adoption Incentive Program, an attempt to increase adoptions of wild horses and burros by giving adopters $500 within 60 days of adoption and another $500 within 60 days of receiving title (about one year later). To enter the program, adopters must sign an affidavit saying they do not intend to sell adopted equines to slaughter.

The Adoption Incentive Program has raised serious concerns for Return to Freedom and other animal welfare organizations about whether increased numbers of wild horses and burros, after being captured by BLM on federal land, are then being easily auctioned for slaughter or ending up in abusive homes or with owners who can’t afford their care after title is passed.

Wild horse advocates have every reason to be concerned.

Under a related BLM sale authority program, made possible by a controversial 2005 amendment to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which allows the sale of wild horses and burros ages 10-and-older or that have been passed over for adoption three times, a Colorado rancher and livestock hauler sold 1,700 mustangs to slaughter from 2008 to 2012.

As a result, BLM imposed a sales limit of four horses per buyer every six months. In 2018, however, BLM suddenly changed the limit to 24 wild horses or burros per day with no waiting period and no questions asked. That limit remained in place for almost a year before BLM, under pressure from RTF and other advocates, reverted to the previous limitations.

BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program goal is to reduce off-range holding costs. According to the agency, it costs an average of $1,850 per year to care for a wild horse or burro in a government corral. 

With the demand for wild horses flagging, the BLM program declared the new program a success for having helped BLM to a 15-year adoption high of more than 6,000 horses and burros in its first year and “saving $170 million” in lifetime costs for those animals.

The incentive program must be thoroughly investigated with as much transparency as possible. 

Should the program remain in place, changes must be made, including more thorough background checks to show adopters are willing and financially able to provide what BLM calls “good homes.”

If the agency’s motive is truly to increase successful adoptions — and not devalue America’s federally protected wild horses in the process – why not offer vouchers instead of cash for trainers or veterinarians by showing proof of progress or medical care provided to the horses. BLM should also look at extending the period that an adopter cares for a horse before receiving title.

In 1971, Congress responded to a massive public campaign to protect America’s remaining wild horses and burros by unanimously passing the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Fifty years since the inception of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, with our wild horses and burros facing critical challenges, Americans will not accept deceptive government programs shipping mustangs out the back door to their deaths.

Even one is too many.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has also called for the Bureau of Land Management to suspend its Adoption Incentive Program. Read her letter here.

Take Action: Send a message to Congress calling for changes to the Bureau of Land Management’s Adoption Incentive Program