BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program Is Funneling Wild Horses & Burros to Slaughter

(May 15, 2021) The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) was implemented in 2019 to increase the number of wild horses and burros adopted or sold as a mechanism for accommodating the previous administration’s plan to accelerate roundup and removal of wild horses and burros from public lands, as outlined in the BLM’s 2020 Report to Congress. An alarming number of BLM horses and burros have been subjected to cruel conditions and sold at kill pens where they are purchased for slaughter. The evidence accumulated by the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) and affirmed in today's New York Times expose’ demands immediate suspension of, and formal investigation into, the Adoption Incentive Program.

BACKGROUND

The AIP offers a financial incentive to individuals to adopt an unhandled, untrained wild horse or burro. The incentive is $1,000, split into two payments: $500 paid within 60 days of the adoption date and another $500 within 60 days of the title date.

AWHC warned that this program would result in disaster for wild horses and burros by incentivizing people with nefarious intent or those lacking necessary skills and resources to adopt these animals. An investigation by AWHC, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Skydog Sanctuary, and Evanescent Mustang Rescue documents that the program is sending hundreds of federally-protected wild horses and burros into the slaughter pipeline and subjecting them to severe neglect and abuse. To date, the program has cost American taxpayers over $4 million.

Wild Horses and Burros Are Entering the Slaughter Pipeline Through the AIP

  • More than 100 wild horses and burros have been identified at eight different livestock auctions, across five different states, known to sell horses to kill buyers.
  • All of these animals fit the AIP time frame, arriving in kill pens within 60-90 days of the adopter receiving title. So far, 17 have been confirmed as adopted through AIP via records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and pending FOIA requests are expected to confirm dozens more.
  • Numerous groups of related individuals have maximized AIP payments by each adopting four BLM horses (the per-person limit); they listed the same address on their applications. These individuals adopted up to 20 horses per group, then “flipped” them to slaughter auctions 60-90 days after receiving title to the animals. In the case of the 20 horses, this netted profits of $20,000 in AIP payments and approximately $10,000 at auction for a total of $30,000 in profits for the five-person family.
  • It is difficult to ascertain the true number of BLM horses and burros being sold for slaughter because many kill pens direct ship these animals across the border without advertisement.

Wild Horses and Burros Are Suffering Severe Cruelty After Being “Adopted” Through AIP

In addition to adopters selling horses for slaughter, there are numerous cases of inhumane living conditions, extreme neglect, and abuse by AIP adopters who clearly lack the interest, ability, or knowledge to properly care for these horses and burros. Some examples:

  • Numerous cases of extremely malnourished, emaciated horses.
  • Documented cases of outright abuse, including a horse living in a dog pen and standing in 5 inches of mud, a horse with multiple sores on their body, and a horse found unable to stand, with her neck folded back due to severe injury.
  • Several AIP horses were returned to the BLM from adopters who were not equipped to handle a wild, untrained horse or burro.
  • Numerous additional cases of BLM repossessing horses due to inhumane treatment.

AIP Should Be Immediately Suspended to Protect Wild Horses and Burros from Slaughter and Cruelty While BLM’s Program Is Investigated There is compelling evidence that the AIP has become a government-subsidized slaughter pipeline. Agency officials consistently turn a blind eye to the fate of the horses and burros once title is transferred, even though adopters sign a BLM contract swearing under penalty of perjury that they will not sell adopted wild horses and burros directly or indirectly to slaughter. While compliance checks are required for each horse before title is transferred, FOIA documentation shows that these checks are questionably conducted and often do not occur in a timely manner, leaving questions about whether these checks are sufficient or even being conducted before title is transferred. Our investigation indicates that this program is defrauding U.S. taxpayers and violating Congress’ ban on the sale of these federally-protected animals for slaughter.

The evidence of slaughter and abuse is sufficient to warrant:

  • An immediate suspension of the AIP program.
  • An investigation into the program and the placement of adopted horses and burros.
  • Criminal prosecution of adopters who violated their contracts by “flipping” horses to slaughter auctions after receiving their second AIP payment.
  • Termination of BLM employees who knowingly placed wild horses and burros into high-risk situations and failed to enforce the adoption contract that prohibits the sale of the animals for slaughter.
  • ***AWHC and our partners stand ready to provide the substantial evidence we have accumulated to assist with an investigation.

A Better Solution

The endless cycle of removing horses from the range is ineffective and unsustainable. The National Academy of Sciences said, “Management practices are facilitating high rates of population growth,” thereby increasing the number of horses and burros removed and sent to holding facilities. Instead, the BLM should conduct a robust, on-range fertility control program and seek out more humane alternatives for horses that are removed, such as relocating to HMAs with available capacity.

Media: Grace Kuhn, grace@americanwildhorsecampaign.org