Editorial: Adoption incentives could curb wild horse population

Why not?

Unless some self-appointed “wild horse lovers” step in and manage to quash the idea, the Bureau of Land Management is seriously considering still another method for reducing the wild horse and burro population on the open range and in pens.

The idea was floated in a report to Congress this past April. Instead of charging people $125 a head to adopt a wild horse or burro, pay people $1,000 a head to adopt and care for the feral animals instead of letting them starve on overgrazed range or languish in pens.

The report predicted, “If the incentive proves to increase adoptions beyond the planned 5,000, the BLM could decrease the use of permanent sterilization and increase removals to match adoption/sale totals. While this incentive would increase costs in the initial years, it will quickly pay for itself by lowering off-range holding expenditures,” adding that the program could reduce the 83,000 horses and burros on the open range to the goal of 27,000 by 2030.

The idea was endorsed in the latest issue of PERC Reports — a magazine published by the Property and Environment Research Center, a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through markets and property rights.

Writers Hannah Downey, the policy and partnerships coordinator and a research fellow at PERC, and Tate Watkins, a research and publications fellow at PERC and managing editor of PREC Reports, reported that under the current plan the BLM would pay adopters a $500 first installment 60 days after adoption. Once new owners demonstrate they are providing quality care after a 12-month probationary period the new owners would get another $500 payment.

“The plan has the potential to help improve the lives of wild horses while also benefiting taxpayers,” the PERC Reports article states. “Owning and caring for a horse is not cheap. The $1,000 payment should promote adoptions as the stipend can help cover veterinary and training costs. This sort of approach has been widely used by animal shelters that offer free adoptions or waivers for veterinary care to help get pets placed in loving homes, and it has potential to make a real difference in the lives of wild horses and burros.”

Why not treat wild horses and burros in a manner comparable to dogs and cats?

“Adoption is clearly a better outcome for a wild horse than starving on the range or living out the rest of its days in an overcrowded corral,” Downey and Watkins argue. “For taxpayers, the per-horse savings is undeniable. Spending $1,000 to find a mustang a good home is orders of magnitude cheaper — and likely much more humane — than caring for it in a government holding facility for the rest of its life.”

The BLM now spends more than $50 million a year to warehouse wild horses and burros, about 60 percent of its budget for protecting the beasts.

It’s worth a try.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)