A new rehoming program for wild horses in the American West seeks to address herd overpopulation by using financial incentives that supporters say will help the environment and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in March announced a plan to reduce the wild horse and burro population on rangelands by offering people $1,000 to adopt and board an animal.
The bureau, which is tasked with managing herds in 10 western states, says that 82,000 wild horses and burrows are wandering 27 million acres of public rangelands, according to the most recent estimates.
The population “is now more than triple the size the land can support along with other legally mandated uses,” the bureau says, and it’s growing.
In the past, the bureau has corralled excess animals and auctioned them off, but it hasn't been an effective enough practice to clear the backlog of animals.
Taxpayers are already footing the bill to care for the overpopulation of horses and burros, which are boarded in off-range holding facilities. Maintenance for those animals costs $50 million a year, according to the bureau.
But the new plan would actually save taxpayer dollars, the bureau and proponents of the plan say, by putting the animals taken off rangelands into private facilities to be cared for.
“The new program should help find homes for more wild horses and burros while also cutting taxpayer costs,” said Hannah Downey, a policy coordinator for the Bozeman, Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center.
“It makes sense to spend $1,000 upfront to save $50,000 over a horse’s lifetime,” she said. “Getting more animals off the range through adoptions will relieve pressure on our public lands, saving horses from starvation and improving the health of western ecosystems and wildlife habitat.”
PERC, which bills itself as “the home of free market environmentalism,” has done research on and supports the adoption incentive program.
“On the range, these animals compete for water and forage with other wildlife, including at-risk species like the sage grouse,” PERC says on its website. “The result is that there are too many horses on too little range and many horses are facing starvation.”
The incentive program pays qualified adopters $500 within 60 days of adopting and another $500 within 60 days that the animal is titled. Animals eligible for adoption come from BLM facilities, rather than right off the range, and cost $25 in adoption fees per animal.
“We understand that adopting a wild horse or burro represents a commitment. The incentive is designed to help with the adopter’s initial training and humane care,” said Brian Steed, deputy director of programs and policy for the bureau.
“Finding good homes for excess animals and reducing overpopulation on the range are top priorities for the BLM as we strive to protect the health of these animals while balancing other legal uses of our public rangelands, including allowing for other traditional land uses such as wildlife conservation and grazing,” he added.
A BLM program spokesperson said that as of April 14, 260 animals have been adopted since the program’s launch.
The BLM manages four wild horse herd management areas in Colorado, containing 812 animals on over 400,000 acres of land. In Nevada, the BLM manages 83 management areas containing 12,811 animals over 15.6 million acres.
The BLM also manages herds in Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana-Dakotas, and Oregon-Washington.