TAKE ACTION: BLM dragging feet on safeguards for adopted mustangs

A wild horse is crowded into a temporary holding pen after being captured on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in 2021. Photo by Meg Frederick.

With each day that passes, an unknown number of once wild and free horses and burros are being dumped at auction by adopters who’ve pocketed a cash incentive from the Bureau of Land Management.

There, kill buyers are waiting who haul horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

The BLM has failed to announce significant reforms to its Adoption Incentive Program (AIP), which since March 2019 has paid adopters $1,000 per wild horse or burro. Adopters receive $500  initially and another remaining $500 upon receiving title about one year later.

AIP needlessly places wild horses and burros at increased risk of being sold to slaughter despite calls for change from members of Congress, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Return to Freedom and other advocates, and the public at large.

Agency leadership now wants to seek still more public comment about AIP, though details have not yet been announced.

We believe strongly that the public has spoken: through letters to the Advisory Board, BLM and Congress, recommendations from the board, and a report compiled after stakeholder meetings with RTF and others.

BLM must not be able to postpone this reform and wash its hands of recently titled wild horses while knowing full well that cash incentives place their lives in jeopardy.

The BLM and U.S. Forest Service do not track adopted wild horses after title is passed to a new owner. This makes exact numbers difficult to attain. Nevertheless, we’ve seen clear, repeated evidence that adopters are “flipping” equines after receiving title.

From the start, we have called for an outside investigation and a halt to the program until real protections have been put into place, among them better background checks for potential adopters and replacing most cash payments with vouchers to assist with needs like veterinary care or training.

Giveaways to adopters also increase the risk that an adopted horse of burro will end up in an abusive home or even a well-meaning home that can’t afford a horse.

The agency views the program as a success. It helped boost adoption numbers to 23,909 adoptions from 2019-22 — up from 12,218 over the four years prior.

In 2021 and 2022, BLM announced tweaks to the program. They fall well short of providing real safeguards for wild horses and burros that the agency has captured and removed from the range, then put up for adoption or sale.

In the spring and summer of 2022, Return to Freedom and other stakeholders took part in talks intended to improve AIP. A number of ideas were put forward, including vouchers.

Nothing changed.

In October, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended that BLM adopt a voucher program, create a system for the public to report animal welfare or adoption violations, and pursue local partnerships to support wild horse and burro care, ensure compliance and provide post-adoption support.

Still, nothing has changed.

Hundreds of mustangs and burros have been documented at kill pens soon after they were titled to adopters. Additionally, since individuals are limited to four adoptions per year, the same family names are showing up repeatedly as they enlist family members to adopt to increase their numbers and revenue. The BLM is not doing anything about it. This is an outrage.

The failure to do so much as pause a program drawing such great public outrage over the fate of adopted equines violates the spirit of the law that charged BLM and the U.S. Forest Service with legal responsibility to conserve and protect America’s wild horses and burros.

Take action: Tell Congress and BLM leadership that changes in AIP must be made now!