While the population of wild horses and burros in the American West has exceeded 82,000 equines, adoptions are down. To encourage more people to adopt, the Bureau of Land Management is offering people a $1,000 incentive to adopt, hoping that this will address overpopulation and keep horses from starving.
It’s a nice idea. But . . .
In reality the implications are horrific.
Under the agency’s adoption incentive program, adopters are eligible to receive $500 within 60 days of adopting an untrained wild horse and burro, and another $500 within 60 days of titling the animal. People interested in the program can adopt and maintain four wild horses or burros each year. The economics from the BLM’s perspective are clear: it costs the agency about $2,000 per year to care for the horses they capture and coral. By giving them away with a $1K bonus, the agency will save money.
What’s wrong with that? A number of things. But the two that scream out at me are:
- The number of people who should adopt an untrained wild horse is limited. That’s probably one of the reasons why last year the BLM captured 11,472 horses and burros from the wild, but only 4,609 were adopted. Training a wild horse is the stuff of Walter Farley novels, but is simply not practical for the average armchair cowboy. People will get hurt and frustrated; horses will be discarded as dangerous and will likely go to auction and more than likely to slaughter.
- The economics make it very attractive for people to adopt the horses and then sell them at auction. If you can get the BLM to give you $4K/year for four horses and you sell each of them at auction for $1.50/pound. You have to keep them for 2 months, but that’s not a huge deal.
The sad part of this equation is that if these horses are shipped to slaughter, they will go to Mexican slaughter houses, known for their inhumane practices. As of December 6, 2018, 65,915 horse were shipped to slaughter in Mexico.
In fact, there are reports that the BLM has complicit with schemes to sell wild horses to slaughter for years.
The BLM, which is charged with protecting wild horses actually sold more than 1,700 of them to a Colorado rancher who illegally sent them to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
Over the course of four years, from 2008-2012, the rancher, Tom Davis, purchased loads of horses for $10 each and resold them for meat.
Davis told BLM officials he was sending the horses to good homes, but the report criticizes the bureau for failing to check on where the animals ended up, even after receiving complaints. When investigators from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General confronted Davis about the purchases and asked him how many of those horses had been resold for slaughter, he told them, “Probably close to all of them.” Davis told investigators that he assumed the wild horses would be slaughtered, saying there was only “one place to go … to the kill plant.”
The BLM released a statement saying it had taken steps to improve its oversight of wild horses, including limiting purchases to just four per buyer.
Under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the BLM is responsible for managing and protecting wild horses and burros. Congress declared the animals “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”
Wouldn’t it be better to come up with more humane way to deal with these herds? Or simply open up more of the land for their welfare and put more restrictions on ranchers grazing cattle on public lands?
What do you think can be done to preserve the wild horses?