The federal Bureau of Land Management has ordered an end to free mass adoptions of wild horses, a practice that critics claim drew people who sold the animals for dog food and other commercial purposes.

BLM Director Robert Burford announced Thursday the agency was ending the program in which people who adopted 100 or more wild horses didn't have to pay a fee of $125 per animal."Several things had all come together to make it clear to us the American people did not want this program to continue," said Bob Stewart, public affairs director of the Nevada BLM office.

Congress opposed it and a federal judge ruled against it.

"It's a despicable program," said John Ohlson, a Reno attorney for the Animal Protection Institute.

People can still adopt up to four mustangs a year for $125 per animal in the program aimed at controlling the size of wild horse populations on rangeland.

Congress had threatened to withhold BLM funding unless the mass adoption fee waiver policy ended. Last year, a federal judge in Reno ruled that the policy was contrary to the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act, intended to save animals from slaughter.

Oral arguments on an appeal of that case were heard Thursday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but no ruling was issued.

Nevada has the largest wild horse population in the nation with estimates ranging from 28,000 animals to 18,000.

Plans are in the works to create a possible wild horse sanctuary in Elko County, in the state's northeastern corner, Stewart said, adding that it would be similar to a facility that opened in August in South Dakota.