More Wild Horses, Fewer Adoptions During Recession Puts Officials in Major Bind

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

During a wild horse auction in Eagle this weekend, only a quarter of the animals were adopted. Nationwide, the BLM says the number of wild horses being adopted has dropped nearly 50 percent in just the past few years. With mustang numbers on the rise, officials say a tough situation is becoming even tougher.

The BLM says in 2002, more than 7,700 wild horses were adopted in the U.S. In 2008, that number shot down to 3,700. Karen Caton, President of local group Friends of the Mustangs, says it's just another sign of the times.

"Horses take a back to seat to the real necessities that people have to deal with everyday," said Caton.

Caton, who owns several horses herself, says the recession has made it much harder for people to keep up with the time and financial demands keeping a horse takes.

"You're looking at probably a couple thousand dollars for hay," said Caton. "You've also got veterinary expenses."

Commitments that even the BLM is struggling with. The federal agency estimates there are more than 36,000 wild horses and burros currently roaming its public lands. Officials say food and water resources on the land can only handle 26,600.

Off the range, roughly 31,000 wild horses and burros are cared for at short term and long term holding facilities. In 2008, the BLM spent more than $27 million dollars -- three-fourths of its total wild horse budget -- on those facilities. Officials say that tab could rise to $85 million by 2012 if adoptions don't pick up.

With adoption numbers down, they're having to do more to keep the wild horse numbers in check.

"They are involved in a contraceptive program for the mares, where they are trying to regulate how fast the herd grows," said Caton.

Here in the Grand Valley, Caton says her group and the BLM work together to keep populations on the Bookcliffs between 90 and 150.

"With the babies we've had so far this year, we're probably up to one-hundred twenty-five, maybe one-hundred thirty," said Caton.

Once the herd gets too big, they round up some of the horses and take them off the mountains -- a process they hope the contraceptives will help them do less frequently.

"Typically they've had [roundups] about every three, maybe four years," said Caton. "They're trying to push that back to ideally maybe six or seven years."

As for the wild horses they do remove and put up at auction locally, Caton says the adoption rates are much higher than they are in other areas.

"For some reason, I'm not exactly sure why, people really like the Bookcliffs herd," said Caton.

And she hopes that becomes the case for rest of the country soon, before even tougher decisions about the horses' fates have to be made. Federal law allows the BLM to euthanize mustangs, but officials say the agency has yet to put down a healthy horse.


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