UTAH (CBS) — The government is taking a unique approach to control the record-breaking population of wild horses.
There are an estimated 88,000 of them across the country. The American icons are protected by a law passed by Congress in 1971. But too many wild mustangs can lead to big problems, like starving horses.
We met Gus Warr of the Bureau of Land Management in Utah. He told us the rapid reproduction of wild horses is creating a crisis.
“We’re estimating there’s 88,000 wild horses in America right now,” he said. “The land can sustain like 27,000.”
Galloping at up to 40 miles an hour in the mountains and plains of Utah, these mustangs symbolize freedom.
“Freedom has its consequences if they’re not managed,” Warr said.
Those consequences can be overgrazed land and starving horses. That’s why BLM rounds up thousands of horses each year. The Humane Society and Wild Horse campaign told CBS News the roundups can be dangerous. Leaving some horses injured or dead or they might be adopted and illegally sold for slaughter.
Warr says BLM spends $50 million of its $80 million dollar budget on off-range holding costs for the mustangs they gather.
“To hold a horse in holding we’re spending almost $2,000 dollars a year,” Warr said.
So, BLM did some simple math. Rather than pay $2,000 dollars to care for a mustang for one year, they’ll pay $1,000 dollars to someone willing to adopt and care for a mustang over its lifetime.
“I think it’s another tool. I mean it’s not a panacea,” Warr said.
Is Warr concerned people will get one of the horses, take the $1,000, then take it to a slaughterhouse or abuse it?
He says, if the BLM heard about such an incident, it would contact the local humane group.
We visited an adoption in Livingston, Texas. It’s where Rebecca Herchman brought her 11-year-old granddaughter, Abby.
“This one is a special horse,” said Abby.
To qualify, adopters must have enough space for a horse and no history of animal abuse. Those approved get a completely wild horse and $500 upfront. The other $500 comes one year later.
“It’s beneficial, but it’s not why we’re here. I can see why they’re doing it because it gets more people to take a chance on wild horse,” said Michael Galles, mustang adopter.
Debra Cash and Michael Galles are taking home their very first mustang.
“You know, with a horse it seems like you connect with them. Um, I look at their eyes, see if they make contact with you,” said Debra Cash.
Rebecca plans to spend her $1,000 payment on a trainer and horse supplies.
“I cannot wait to start petting the horse,” Abby said.
“The good thing is that our husbands can’t get upset with us ’cause we’re actually bringing home money,” Rebecca Herchman said.
But when you see this kind of human-horse connection.
“The horse picks you,” Abby said.
It doesn’t really seem the money matters at all.
“I just feel like I’m helping,” Cash said.