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New report finds success in wild horse adoption program, critics disagree

Jessica Hill, Las Vegas Review-Journal on

Published in Science & Technology News

A free-market environmental group has recommended expanding a Bureau of Land Management wild horse and burro adoption program that it says is saving taxpayers millions of dollars a year. A wild horse advocacy group has called the program a failure.

The Property and Environment Research Center issued a report this week that recommended increasing the financial incentive to adopt wild horses and burros from $1,000 to $3,000, or establishing a “frequent adopter” program where people who adopt consistently can be eligible for bonuses.

The group also recommended harnessing private partnerships to place more wild horses and burros in the eastern part of the U.S. If a “Pony Express” were to be established to transport horses east, there could be a rise of adoptions, said Brian Yablonski, CEO of the center.

“We are cognizant that this is an issue fraught with emotion and symbolism,” Yablonski said. “But there’s kind of a romance versus reality component here. … Everybody loves wild horses, but there’s a reality, there’s just too many horses on too little land, and we need common sense solutions.”

Population explosion

The country’s wild horses — many which live on public land in Nevada — are an icon of the American West but for years have been struggling with overpopulation. Left unattended, the feral horses reproduce too quickly and cause strain on the environment.

 

In the West, there are 73,000 wild horses and burros on public lands, nearly three times the national estimated sustainable threshold of 27,000, according to the report.

To control the population, the BLM gathers and removes wild horses and burros from public lands, and in some locations uses birth control to slow population growth. Five years ago, it implemented a wild horse adoption incentive program, which provides incentives to adopt the animals. More than 62,000 horses live in off-range pastures and facilities, which cost taxpayers $108.5 million in 2023, the report said.

Since the program began, 15,000 wild horses and burros have been adopted, saving taxpayers $66 million in holding costs. The program is on track to provide homes to more than 30,000 animals, according to the report.

Annual adoptions have more than doubled since the adoption incentive program went into effect, according to the report, which said it is expected to save $100 million in taxpayer dollars.The report suggests using some of the money saved through the adoption program to support other strategies to alleviate the overpopulation, such as investing in immunocontraception efforts and expanding training programs that make the wild horses more appealing to adopt.

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