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Amy Dumas, from the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program feeds some alfalfa to wild horses on Sunday, April 26, 2009 at Robertson Park in Livermore, Calif. Thirty nine horses and six burros were available for adoption in the event that was held on April 24, 25 & 26.(Jim Stevens/Staff)

Jim Sauger adopted two wild horses last weekend, adding to the existing horses, goats, cows, birds, dogs, cats and even a tortoise at his Livermore home.

"They'll just be for riding," said Sauger, a 45-year-old semiconductor worker who hopes his 6-month-old son will learn to ride the horses when he's older. "Maybe some roping, or trail rides."

But officials say fewer people are adopting the wild horses, and many others who already have horses are trying to hand them off.

"The economy is killing us, just like everyone else," said David Christy, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which held the adoption event this weekend at the Livermore Rodeo Grounds at Robertson Park. "We had a good crowd, but a lot said they couldn't afford the costs."

The event was part of the bureau's Wild Horse and Burro Program. Of the roughly 40 horses available, only 10 were adopted, though all six burros, or donkeys, were claimed. Christy said the problem isn't as bad for the burros, since there are not as many and they are easier to care for.

The bureau adopted out 5,700 animals nationwide in 2005, a typical adoption year. Last year, it adopted out 3,700. This year, adoptions are hovering around half — or even less — of what the bureau typically sees, Christy said.

The program goes to about a dozen locations each year in California, which usually sees about 1,000 adoptions. The bureau has placed about 220,000 animals in private care since the adoption program began in the early 1970s. The program aims to control overpopulation on public rangelands. The program, which has not been in Livermore for several years, will be held in mid-May in Napa and mid-June in Salinas.


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Christy said besides the federally protected wild animals the bureau gathers for its program, there are also many people trying to get rid of animals they already own.

Beth DeCaprio, founder and chief executive officer of The Grace Foundation of Northern California, a horse rescue group, said there are many reasons for the glut, including overbreeding. But the current economy is making it worse.

"They're luxury items, and when the economy goes bad they're the first to go," said DeCaprio, who added there may also be many owners who no longer have the land to hold horses. "It's a national crisis."

Reach Eric Louie at 925-847-2123 or elouie@bayareanewsgroup.com.