New online auctions buck the old system at BLM

Faced with an increase in the population of wild horses, which cause overgrazing of federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management has turned to the World Wide Web to find homes for the animals.

This year, BLM will try to find owners for about 6,000 wild horses and burros that now live on federal lands. BLM expects the number of wild horses to increase 20 percent a year, making it a challenge to keep the wild horse and burro population at a level that will prevent the overgrazing of federal lands, which provide food for wild animals and thousands of cattle.

"We have surveyed the land, and we know how much the land will carry and what's a healthy mix," said Mary Trautner, program manager for BLM's online adoption project.

To find homes for thousands of horses, BLM has turned to the Internet to conduct online adoptions as well as to reach people who might want to adopt horses. The Internet "is just not necessarily to adopt out the horses," Trautner said. "It's also to increase our potential adopters."

In a traditional BLM horse adoption, adopters travel to a central site where

they draw random numbers. The bidder who chooses No. 1 is allowed to pick a horse first. All bidders pay a fixed fee of $125. However, the Internet allows BLM to hold an auction. BLM's first Internet adoption took place last month, and winners traveled to Cross Plains, Tenn., this month to pick up 25 horses and burros.

Melanie Jackson, a first-time horse buyer who lives in Front Royal, Va., was one of the winners who used BLM's site to adopt a horse that she named "Magic Spell." Jackson's Internet adoption process began a couple of months ago, when she filled out the online application to adopt a horse. Afterward, a BLM employee called to verify the information and checked if Jackson had the shelter and corral that BLM requires all horse adopters to have. Jackson then received via e-mail a bidder number and a request to choose a password. Using the bidder number and password, she visited the BLM site (www.adoptahorse.

blm.gov), perused the online photos and descriptions of the horses and burros, and placed a $185 bid on the horse she wanted.

Bidders can use the site to learn if they have been outbid or to outbid other potential buyers. "I was on the Net every morning and every evening and sometimes two or three times during the day to make sure nobody outbid me," Jackson said. "I'd recommend [Internet adoption]. In fact, I see it as the way of the future."

"Online auctions are certainly one of the real growing uses of the Web by business," said Mary Cronin, a professor of management at Boston College who studies how organizations use the Web.

Trautner said BLM officials are studying how well the first Internet adoption went, gauging adopters' reactions and determining where improvements could be made.

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