By Scott Sonner
The Associated Press
RENO, NEV. » Federal officials who are trying to adopt out wild horses captured on public land say they are tightening protections to guard against the illegal resale of the animals for slaughter, but advocates say the government needs to do more, including ending incentive payments for adoptions.
The Bureau of Land Management is committed to the health and safety of adopted mustangs and burros, its deputy director for programs, Nada Wolff Culver, said in announcing the changes Monday.
“We will begin to make additional compliance visits post-adoption, bring more scrutiny to potential adopters and increase warnings to sale barns about the risks of illegally selling wild horses and burros, among other steps,” she said.
Advocates said they have documented the reselling of horses for slaughter for nearly a decade and that it won’t stop until the agency ends the $1,000 payments it has offered in recent years to try to jump-start lagging demand at overstocked holding pens.
The bureau estimates there are about 86,000 horses and burros on the range in 10 Western states, about half of those in Nevada. It says that’s three times as many as public lands can sustain, which horse advocates dispute. About 50,000 wild horses and burros are in government holding facilities. The bureau said it has placed more than 8,000 in adoptive homes since March 2019, for a total of more than 270,000 over the life of the decades-old program.
Adopters already must certify “under penalty of prosecution” that they will not knowingly sell or transfer the animals for slaughter, Culver said.
The land agency intends to improve screening of adoption applicants and inspect animals within six months of adoption, instead of the current 12 months, she said. The government also prohibits someone from adopting more than four animals within a 12month period and bans transfer of ownership for at least 12 months after the adoption date, Culver said.
Animal advocates say removing the animals from the open range is driven by pressure from ranchers who don’t want the freeroaming horses competing with their livestock for forage.
They insist the mustangs should remain in the wild and that the adoption incentive money would be better spent on horse fertility controls. They have been pressing for an independent investigation of past abuses in the adoption program.
The changes that the Bureau of Land Management “is vowing to implement will be rendered meaningless without the elimination of the cash incentives for the adoption of untamed, wild mustangs and burros,” said Grace Kuhn, communications director for the American Wild Horse Campaign. “These federally protected animals will continue to be shipped to slaughter.”