Celebrating Five Years of the Adoption Incentive Program: A Win-Win for Animals and Taxpayers

A wild horse in sage brush. Wording says "Celebrating 5 years of the Adoption Incentive Program"

At the Bureau of Land Management, we're passionate about managing and protecting America’s wild horses and burros and their habitat on public lands. As cherished icons of the American West, wild horses and burros embody freedom and the pioneering spirit of our nation’s past. Simply put, these magnificent animals are a living testament to our history and heritage, deserving of both our respect and diligent stewardship.

Since its launch five years ago in 2019, the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Incentive Program has played a vital role in supporting our mission to manage healthy herds of wild horses and burros on healthy public rangelands. Through the Adoption Incentive Program, we have been able to find loving homes for thousands of wild horses and burros, save taxpayers money, help alleviate the strain on their natural habitats and promote long-term health and prosperity for our wild herds and other wildlife. 

A Successful Five Years

Launched in 2019, the Adoption Incentive Program was designed to place more wild horses and burros into good homes by reducing costs associated with their care, such as training, veterinary care or facility improvements. The program offers $1,000 to adopters who choose to provide a good home to a wild horse or burro that was untrained at the time of adoption. 
Since its launch, more than 17,000 wild horses and burros have been adopted through the Adoption Incentive Program. Owing to the success of the program, the number of animals placed into private care over the last five years (2019-2023) was more than double the previous five years (2014-2018).

Figure showing annual number of wild horses and burros placed into private care from 2014 to 2023, showing a spike in the years 2019-2023 as the Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) went into effect.
Annual private care placements 2014 to 2023, highlighting AIP adoptions. 

The success of the Adoption Incentive Program is more than just a statistic; it's a testament to the dedication and compassion of individuals across the nation who have opened their hearts and homes to these incredible animals. By providing an incentive of up to $1,000 per animal, the Adoption Incentive Program has made it more feasible for adopters to welcome a wild horse or burro into their lives, ensuring these animals receive the care and love they deserve.

Saving Taxpayer Money

In addition to finding homes for these animals, the Adoption Incentive Program has also generated significant cost savings for taxpayers. Caring for unadopted wild horses and burros in off-range corrals and pastures is a considerable expense – costing more than $100 million just last year. By increasing adoptions, the Adoption Incentive Program reduces the need for long-term care, ultimately saving taxpayers millions of dollars. These savings can then be redirected to other critical land management and conservation efforts.

By helping place more than 17,000 animals into new homes over the life of the program, the Adoption Incentive Program has saved taxpayers approximately an estimated $250 million that could have otherwise been spent on providing lifetime care for the animals in a off-range corral and pasture. 

Supporting Healthy Herds on Public Lands

The success of the Adoption Incentive Program is not only measured by the number of animals adopted but also by its impact on the health of herds on public lands. Wild horse and burro populations grow rapidly, and without effective management, overpopulation can lead to overgrazing and degradation of public lands, affecting the horses and burros themselves along with other wildlife and plant species. By promoting adoptions, the Adoption Incentive Program supports efforts to reduce overpopulation and protect land and herd health. 

After nearly a decade of rapid herd growth, wild horse and burro populations reached a peak of more than 95,000 animals in 2020 – nearly four times the number that is healthy and sustainable for the herds and their habitat. Thanks to the success of the Adoption Incentive Program at finding more homes for wild horses and burros gathered from overpopulated herds, the BLM could take more action to address overpopulation. Since peaking in 2020, overpopulation in wild horse and burro herds has declined or remained relatively stable for four consecutive years. 

Figure showing a downward trend for annual wild horse and burro population estimates, 2019-2024.
Annual wild horse and burro population estimates, 2019-2024.

Placing Animals into Loving Homes

As we celebrate the successes of the Adoption Incentive Program and the thousands of new homes it has helped provide to wild horses and burros, we remain committed to ensuring animals are placed into good, loving homes. We’ve incorporated the Adoption Incentive Program into our application screening process to ensure the program is not abused, including requiring at least one year of care by the adopter before the incentive is paid and title of ownership is transferred, and capping the number of animals that can be adopted by an individual to four per year. We’ve also implemented rigorous compliance checks on adopted animals, and our title application process requires sign-off from a veterinarian or BLM official before title of ownership is transferred for an animal adopted through the incentive program. 

Many adopted wild horses and burros go on to become cherished members of their new families and take part in a variety of activities, from trail riding to ranch work to winning ribbons in various competitions. There are thousands of good stories of adopters and their adopted wild horse or burro. For example, the Adoption Incentive Program was a pivotal reason why Brad and Kelly Smoot of Arco, Idaho chose to adopt seven wild horses (and eventually building their herd up to 8 when one of the adopted mares gave birth) for back country trail riding and general pleasure. The incentive program was also important to Nicole Melton’s decision to add adopted wild horses to her outfitter business, which takes folks into Idaho’s River of No Return Wilderness. 

Brad smooth starting the saddling process.
Brad Smoot starting the saddling process. 

Looking Ahead

As we celebrate the fifth year of the Adoption Incentive Program, we remain committed to its goals and continue to seek innovative ways to improve and expand our adoption efforts. We are grateful to the many adopters, volunteers, and partner organizations who have contributed to the program's success. Together, we are making a difference for America's wild horses and burros, ensuring they find the loving homes they deserve while maintaining the health and beauty of our public lands for future generations.

Here's to many more years of successful adoptions and healthy herds!

Jason Lutterman, Public Affairs Specialist

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