One of the most frequently asked questions of this fiscal year has to do with the differences between these three terms and where the breakdown happens; the loophole that can lead to the kill pen.
Under Adoption, Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) or Sale Program, all of them have the same problem in common, the transfer of title. A wild horse or burro belongs to the federal government and all of the protections afforded against sales to slaughter must be maintained until the BLM issues a certificate of title. After that, there is no legal ramifications that can land anyone in hot water. There may be asserted moral issues, but nothing that can hold someone to a legal standard in front of a judge.
- Adoption: Title transfers after 1 year.
- Adoption Incentive Program: Adopter is given $1,000. in an “incentive” and title transfers after 1 year.
- Sale: Title transfers immediately and a horse can be sold for as little as $5.00.
The only real difference to the 3 programs, that matters to the issue of “slaughter,” is when title transfers.
The door opens to the slaughter pipeline after the transfer of title.
The original 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act did not allow open sales to slaughter or even use the phrase “excess animals.” It allowed the placement of horses or burros into a maintenance agreement.
The transfer of title began under the Public Rangelands Improvement Act or PRIA. The term “excess” also comes from PRIA.
The Adopt-a-Horse program was created in 1978 through PRIA. This program, which remains in effect today, allows individuals to obtain title of up to four horses in a twelve-month period for a minimum adoption fee of $125 each. The minimum fees have not risen since 1978. In fact, the BLM has often lowered fees and created a subsidy program where they provide a $1,000. incentive to adopters; this is the Adoption Incentive Program (AIP).
Since the AIP began adoption numbers have doubled. However, it is estimated that more than half of these wild horses and burros were sold in auction within the first month after title transfer (based on the documentation showing over a third met that fate openly in a one year period that has recently been seen in headlines).
The Burns Amendment (the last change to the 1971 Act in 2004) allowed the BLM to sell “excess” wild horses and burros if the animals are more than ten years of age or have been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least three times. This is the “Sales Program.” A buyer can purchase any number of animals, and they become the buyer’s private property immediately upon purchase.
It is interesting to note that immediately after the Burns Amendment slipped through Congress approximately 8,400 wild horses became eligible for sale in March 2004. Between 2005 and 2010, BLM data indicates that over 4,100 horses were sold under this provision at an average price of $17 each.
The Sales program numbers declined during, and immediately after, an expose was published into the program by ProPublica showing nearly 1800 wild horses going to one kill-buyer, Tom Davis (years of decline, 2011-2017).
Since 2018, the Sales program has risen in popularity (along with the backslide on access, management planning, humane handling as the Path Forward became incorporated into BLM reports to Congress). In four years (2018-2021) 6,108 wild horses have been sold (for an average of $10.) surpassing the 6 year total immediately after the Burns Amendment passed.
In the last few years the AIP took center stage and we have heard precious little about the Sales Program that is even a faster, and more voluminous, slide to slaughter.
So how do we stop wild horses and burros from sliding into the pipeline?
We make sure freezemarks (visible brands) are not replaced with microchips or pit tags (like they did with the Sheldon horses to keep visual ID at a minimum as those horses hit backyard rodeos and slaughter auctions).
Push so that we go back to a “Maintenance Agreement,” not a title transfer, closing that legal loophole once and for all. A Maintenance Agreement could transfer to another person if you you can’t take care of a horse (like a title transfer) but all protections against sales to slaughter would go with the horse or burro to the new “foster home.” (Maintenance Agreement is what it was called pre-PRIA, before the title transfer started.)
Congress will need to be the place you address this. But it is gonna get complicated.
Please be aware that all bills will (unfortunately) die at the end of this Congress. Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. All 435 House seats are up for a vote and 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate are being contested in regular elections. The bills that are active in the 117th Congress will need to be reintroduced next year for the 118th. Bills have 2 years to get through Congress and then need to come back with a new number (if the member retains their chair and is reelected). NOTE: HR 6635 will be a casualty of this session; there is not enough time to get it out of committee and through House and Senate and other bills are now pushing it out of the way. This bill will probably not see reintroduction next session.
Politics is politics. We expect to see competing bills in 2023 surrounding wild horse and burro management and a lot of amendments, heated contradiction, and more.
If wild horse and burro sales to slaughter is a mainline item of your personal advocacy, stay on your toes in 2023. The only thing that closes the loophole (and does not create a new one or just massage the old one) is to stop the transfer of title and go back to “maintenance agreement.”
Depending on which way political winds blow, we will have action items for you to push amendments (or bills) forward once the dust clears on the competing politics inside advocacy itself.
There was an old court case that we will bring up as this debate heats in 2023 to help address why this is the only way to stop BLM from slipping the legal responsibility once a wild horse or burro leaves a corral.
Older articles you may find helpful:
If you are looking for on-range info we published two pieces that focus on the frame on-range, the “in the wild” part of wild horses and burros. A bit of history, the formation of the framework of advocacy for wild horses on our public lands. You can access part 1 HERE. Part 2 focuses on regulation and policy, where we need to advocate to “keep wild horses wild” and part of why that breaks down. You can access part 2 HERE.
Help keep us in the fight.