ICYMI: BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program a Success at the One Year Mark as Agency Takes Steps to Address Wild Horse and Burro Overpopulation
WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took significant strides in May to address the burdens that the Nation’s overpopulation of wild horses and burros put on Western rangelands and the American taxpayer. The BLM announced that its innovative Adoption Incentive Program has already helped the agency save taxpayers $170 million by adopting out a record number of wild horses and burros to private care in its first year. In addition, a potentially ground-breaking fertility control study got underway, and finally, the agency reported to Congress on the outlook for wild horses and burros in coming years.
Adoptions and sales of wild horses and burros reach a 15-year high
Thanks in part to a new cash-incentive program launched last year, the Bureau of Land Management announced a significant increase of animals placed into private care. In the first 12 months of the Adoption Incentive Program, the agency adopted out more than 6,000 animals, helping the agency to achieve a 15-year record for total adoptions and sales in Fiscal Year 2019.
The BLM currently cares for and feeds nearly 50,000 unadopted and unsold wild horses and burros in its off-range corrals and pastures. Each animal successfully placed into private care is estimated to save taxpayers approximately $24,000 in lifetime off-range holding costs. With more than 7,100 animals adopted last year, taxpayers saved approximately $170 million that would have been spent on lifetime care for the animals.
“We’re excited that the public has responded so strongly to this innovative program. The successful use of incentives to increase adoption rates is a win for all involved – saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, reducing the overpopulation of wild horses and burros on the range, and helping these animals find homes with families who will care for and enjoy them for years to come,” said Casey Hammond, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Exercising the Authority of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.
The BLM relies primarily on its Adoption and Sale Programs to carry out its mission of preserving and protecting wild horses and burros on public lands as required by a 1971 law, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. When the number of animals removed from the range to prevent overpopulation exceeds the number the agency can place into private care through adoption or sale, the remaining animals are held in off-range corrals or contracted pastures at taxpayer expense.
BLM starts trial for promising new fertility control method for wild horses
To help address the growing overpopulation of wild horses on public rangelands, the Bureau of Land Management has started testing a promising new fertility control vaccine as part of a joint research project between the BLM and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Wildlife Research Center. Researchers believe the Oocyte Growth Factor (OGF) vaccine, administered to a captured wild mare through a single dose, may safely prevent pregnancy for up to three years or longer.
Though the research is still in its very early phase, if proven viable, the OGF vaccine could help bolster existing methods used by the BLM to manage wild horse populations. The most common fertility control vaccines for wild horses in use today are short-lasting and require near-annual retreatment to remain effective. A single-dose vaccine that can last multiple years, such as the OGF vaccine if proven viable, would provide a number of benefits for BLM, including requiring fewer instances of gathering animals for retreatment or permanent removal.
Strategy Document Sent to Congress
On May 8, the BLM submitted a report to Congress outlining a strategy for achieving healthy and sustainable populations of wild horses and burros on public lands. In the report, the BLM proposes a combination of non-lethal methods to reduce overpopulation and achieve sustainable population levels over 15-18 years.
“The current trajectory of rapid wild horse and burro population growth is unsustainable and dangerous to the health of the land and the animals,” said BLM’s Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Pendley. “The strategy outlined in the report is our best, most realistic chance for reversing this long-term trend, and it puts us on a path toward managing sustainable populations of wild horses and burros that are in balance with what the land can support.”
As of March 1, 2020, the BLM estimated more than 95,000 wild horses and burros lived on public lands that can sustainably support just 27,000. Absent a change in course and support from Congress, wild horse and burro populations on public lands are expected to rise to approximately 2.8 million by 2040, but not before causing catastrophic harm to the land and other wildlife species.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Diverse activities authorized on these lands generated $111 billion in economic output across the country in fiscal year 2019—more than any other agency in the Department of the Interior. These activities supported more than 498,000 jobs.