Mustangs 4 Us is a private, independent, non-political, mostly non-commercial website owned and written by Nancy Kerson,

for the purpose of providing information and education about Mustangs (wild horses) and burros.

The few products I sell on this site are my own, and proceeds help reimburse me for the cost of maintaining this website.

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MUSTANGS 4 US HOME PAGE    HISTORY OF WILD HORSES AND BURROS  ADOPT A MUSTANG OR BURRO!    HOW TO GENTLE AND TRAIN A MUSTANG OR BURRO   GALLERY OF HERD MANAGEMENT AREAS (HMAs) & RELATED HABITATS

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Areas that may have long-standing wild herds, or recently feral horses, that are not included in this website: Indian Reservations, National Parks and National Monuments, Private Lands, Anywhere East of the Rockies (Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Virginia and Carolina Coastal Islands, etc.)

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THE WILD, FREE-ROAMING HORSE & BURRO ACT (Public Law 92-195)

Finally, in 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act. This Act designated wild horses and burros as federally protected species. It still prohibited gathers using motorized equipment (amended later to allow them), and it allowed for the private maintenance of excess wild horses or burros, but with the adopter never receiving title (also changed with a later amendment). This was the first authority given for law enforcement within the BLM. (READ THE FULL TEXT)

The population at this time was estimated to be 17,000 wild horses and 10,000 burros, in 10 western states on BLM and Forest Service land. (Note: Did NOT include National Parks or Us Fish & Wildlife Service land)

"In 1971, Congress introduced and passed The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA). President Richard M. Nixon signed the new Act into law (Public Law 92-195) on December 15, 1971. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act required the protection, management and control of wild free-roaming horses and burros. Local livestock operators now had to claim and permit their private horses and burros grazing on public lands or lose ownership of them. After a specified time period following passage of the Act, any remaining unbranded and unclaimed herds inhabiting BLM or Forest Service lands were declared "wild free-roaming horses and burros" and became the property of the federal government."(from "MUSTANG COUNTRY)

In 1974, a few years after the passing of The Act but before the Wild Horse Program was developed, the Little Bookcliffs area of Colorado was also designated as a wild horse preserve.

The creation of the Marietta Wild Burro Range in 1991 completed the "Wild Horse (or in this case, Burro) Ranges."

 

What's the difference between a "Wild Horse (or burro) Range" and a "Herd Management Area" today?

The concept and identification of Herd Management Areas developed rather slowly. They are managed today as areas where wild horses and burros can legally live and be protected and managed. But they are not managed just for them, but in a multiple use concept.

Designation as a Wild Horse or Burro Range means the area may be managed "principally", but not necessarily exclusively, for wild horses or burros

THE WILD, FREE-ROAMING HORSE & BURRO ACT (Public Law 92-195)

Finally, in 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act. This Act designated wild horses and burros as federally protected species. It still prohibited gathers using motorized equipment (amended later to allow them), and it allowed for the private maintenance of excess wild horses or burros, but with the adopter never receiving title (also changed with a later amendment). This was the first authority given for law enforcement within the BLM. (READ THE FULL TEXT)

The population at this time was estimated to be 17,000 wild horses and 10,000 burros, in 10 western states on BLM and Forest Service land. (Note: Did NOT include National Parks or Us Fish & Wildlife Service land)

"In 1971, Congress introduced and passed The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA). President Richard M. Nixon signed the new Act into law (Public Law 92-195) on December 15, 1971. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act required the protection, management and control of wild free-roaming horses and burros. Local livestock operators now had to claim and permit their private horses and burros grazing on public lands or lose ownership of them. After a specified time period following passage of the Act, any remaining unbranded and unclaimed herds inhabiting BLM or Forest Service lands were declared "wild free-roaming horses and burros" and became the property of the federal government."(from "MUSTANG COUNTRY)

It was a well-meaning law with a strong mandate from the public. But there was no budget attached, nor any plan or description of just exactly what that protection would look like. The first several years were turbulent and slow-moving, as the country and the government tried to figure out how to carry out the law.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE BLM WHB PROGRAM:

Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management to "Protect and Manage" the herds, but no one had any idea what that would actually look like, and others saw a conflict of interest built into giving wild horse protection to an agency that historically was there to regulate the cattle industry, an agency that came into being with the Taylor Grazing Act - the law that first made wild horses into a problem instead of something appreciated. Many employees within BLM resented the added responsibility and others outright didn't believe in it. Overall, the agency did not devote the resources to creating an overall vision or management plan for wild horses.

"Herd Areas" were identified and boundaries set in a hurry, without having time to study the behavior patterns, migratory routes (if any for that particular herd), water sources, food sources throughout the year, herd reproductive rates, etc. Very few, if any, scientific studies had been conducted into wild horse behavior or ecology.

Many of these Herd Areas later had to be abandoned due to not having a water source, or being a "checkerboard" area with too much private land mixed in, making management impossible. We are still living with the legacy of this haste.

HA, HMA, What's the Difference?

Today, the wild horse and burro habitat areas identified at that time are divided into two types: Herd Areas (HAs), which are recognized as historical habitat, but are not currently managed for wild horses or burros, and Herd Management Areas (HMAs), which are managed, and the horses and burros living in them are subject to federal protection as well as management.


Red and yellow areas are federally protected wild horse or burro herd areas.
Animals living anywhere else are not included in the 1971 WHB Protection Act.

At this time, legal protection of wild horses and burros became limited to just those in identified Herd Areas. Any others were at this time, and forever afterward, excluded.This is the subject of considerable public confusion today. Horses not living in these designated Herd Areas have no legal protection. Well-known excluded areas include the Virginia Range wild horses (also sometimes called Comstock horses) living in non-BLM lands surrounding Reno and Carson City, Nevada, which are instead subject to State of Nevada "Estray" laws; Wild horses and burros living in National Parks, including Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and Theodore Roosevelt; The three herds on Sheldon National Pronghorn Preserve, which is administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service; as well as small remnant bands of horses living in many County lands throughout the West. Indian Reservations are technically "sovereign nations" and so horses there are also not included. The US Forest Service (USFS) has Wild Horse Territories (WHT) that are also included for protection under The Act. Often these are managed in cooperation with BLM.

The immediate effect of federal protection was a rapid increase in population . All of a sudden "mustanging" stopped, so the wild herds began to grow. The first BLM gather of excess wild horses conducted the same year in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana.

ADOPTION PROGRAM BEGINS:

1972 saw the first Adoption of wild horses to the public. The idea of "adopting" wild horses came from the need to dispose of the excess Pryor horses and was originally suggested by Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) in meetings prior to the passage of PL 92-195. The statement in the law concerning disposition of excess horses was spawned by these earlier meetings. The statement says excess horses or burros, "may be removed for private maintenance under humane conditions and care." At that time, adoption was more like permanent foster care. The horse was cared for by the adopter, but ownership (and thus, federal protection) stayed with the BLM. The official Adopt-A-Horse or Burro Program to encourage horse enthusiasts to adopt animals gathered from public rangelands, was rolled out in 1976.

National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board

In 1974 The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was created. The DOI and USDA appointed a nine-member advisory board, including Wild Horse Annie, to make recommendations on matters pertaining to wild horses and burros.

In its First Report to Congress, the committee reported that in just three years, the population had grown to 27,000 horses and 14,000 burros. Permission was requested to gather horses and burros using motorized vehicles. They also asked for authority for the public to obtain ownership of adopted wild horses. Congressional Approval was granted for BLM and the FS to remove approximately 3,929 excess horses and 63 excess burros. Due to difficulties encountered in capturing these animals on horseback,  only 1,681 horses and 33 burros were captured Approximately 900 horses and a few burros were made available to persons under maintenance agreements. The remainder were returned to the range, claimed by owners, or were destroyed.

CHALLENGES TO THE ACT

During the last half of the 1970's, lawsuits were used to establish that the Wild Horse Act of 1971 was in fact legal, but also that horses and burros had to managed within a Multiple Use format, and that BLM and USFS had to create Management Plans for each Herd Area in their jurisdiction, and that these plans would include removals (gathers) of excess horses.

In 1976 the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (PL 94-579) amended the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to  managing agencies to use helicopters to manage and/or remove excess animals.  It also required that BLM balance horse use with other resource uses (Multiple Use) CCC (Coordination, Cooperation, and Consultation).

In 1976, The Supreme Court heard a case "Kleppe v New Mexico " and ruled unanimously that the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was indeed Constitutional.

BLM adopted the Alpha Angle freeze marking system developed by Dr. Keith Farrell at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. In 1978, BLM started to freeze mark animals with permanent individual identification marks (Alpha Angle) making it easier to distinguish a wild horse and burro from a domestic animal.

  ( - T. Pogachnik, "Wild Horse & Burro Timeline, 2001)

In 1978, The Public Rangelands Improvement Act (Public Law 95-514) established or reaffirmed:

  • the need for inventory and identification of current public rangeland conditions (through monitoring);

  • the management, maintenance, and improvement of public rangeland conditions to support all rangeland values;

  • the continuance of provisions protecting wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death while facilitating the removal of excess wild horses and burros that pose a threat to their own habitat and other rangeland resources;

  •  and the transfer of the title of ownership after one year to individuals that adopted wild horses and burros removed from public rangelands, so long as the animals had received humane care and treatment during that year.
    (from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/whbprogram/history_and_facts/history_of_the_program.html)

This Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA) the WFRHBA to stress multiple use concept of public lands, and to authorize the removal of horses when necessary to maintain a thriving ecological balance"and protect the range from deterioration associated with overpopulation of wild horses and burros.

It removed the provision that required herd areas be managed “principally” for the benefit of the wild horses. It also created a requirement for research study, and to establish an order and priority for removal of excess animals. It also called for an inventory of rangeland conditions and inventory of wild horse and burro herds.

Also in 1978, Several Holding & Adoption Centers were created:

The first contract adoption center ever set up by the BLM was in Spanaway, WA. Others were set up, also as contract facilities in Eugene, Oregon, Cross Plains, Tennessee and Valley Mills, Texas.

Palomino Valley Wild Horse & Burro Facility was purchased and initial improvements were made.

The Eugene Wild Horse & Adoption Center Opened in Sept of 1978 and ran until Sept 1986. "In that time it adopted out over 3000 horses and 150 burros to adopters from all over the U.S. The policy that was developed there was that every horse leaving the facility was halter broke to the point that it could be tied and led. All horses left the facility with a nylon web halter and 20' of poly lead rope attached to the halter. Most stallions were gelded at the center with only a few stallions going out to knowledgeable horsemen. The Eugene Center also took back and reassigned horses that people could no longer keep and those whose adopters were in over their heads. Clinics were held both at the center and at all Satellite adoptions on halter starting, leading, how to tie a foot up for working safely with your horse as well as at least one 2-3 year old went through ground driving and the first 3 rides at all major satellite adoptions. Chuck John also started a number of horses that were not moving well and adopted them out. We delivered horses all over the NW and often had people call us when they needed help and one of us would talk them through their problems and keep up with them to make sure things were headed in the right direction. We often shipped multiple horses to the same people over the years."- Sandee Force

In 1979, the first permanent holding facility in the East was established in Cross Plains, Tennessee. Randall & Paula Carr operated it until the contract was moved to Elgin, Illinois in the early 2000's. Carr's facilities processed over 20,000 animals – not only adopting but also holding, sorting, vetting, hoof trimming, and medical attention.

By 36 Herd Management Plans plans and 29 FS territory plans had been developed since they began in 1976.

Further lawsuits contesting the Wild Horse & Burro Act continued, from such various groups as the National Wildlife Federation and local rancher groups. Court rulings further influenced the development of the Program.

THE SAGEBRUSH REBELLION

As important as the 1971 Wild Horse & Burro Freedom Act is to wild horse & burro issues, it is also important to know about the Sagebrush Rebellion, as these two forces acted - and to some extent still act - as weights on opposite ends of a teeter-totter of policy-making. To understand wild horse politics, it is important to know about the Sagebrush Rebellion and the powerful effect it had in the region, and continues to have.

The "Sagebrush Rebellion" was most active in Nevada during the 1960's through late 1970's. The Sagebrush Rebels targeted wild horses as an expression of local people's contempt for increasing federal intervention in their lives and ways of doing business. Animosity toward wild horses from the ranching community continues to this day.

Here are some links:

  • Sagebrush rebels - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    "Sagebrush rebels is a group that attempted to influence environmental policy in the American West during the 1970s and 1980s, surviving into the 21st century in public lands states (generally, the 13 western states where federal land holdings include 30% to more than 50% of a state's area), and surviving in organized groups pressuring public lands policy makers, especially for grazing of sheep and cattle on public lands, and for mineral extraction policies.

    ...The term "Sagebrush Rebellion" was coined during fights over designation of National Wilderness lands, especially in western states..." see link above for the complete article
     

  • "Wild Horses, First Target by Nevada's Sagebrush Rebels" by Rose Strickland
    (Reprinted from "Western Sportsman" –the official voice of the Nevada Wildlife Federation, –February 1997 issue.)
    "Nevada State Senator Dean Rhoads’ Legislative Committee on Public Lands (and also regarded as the father of the Sagebrush Rebellion and is a public lands permittee and rancher) is wasting no time after November’s elections to eliminate or cripple the state’s role in protecting the wild horses on public lands in Nevada." (click link for complete article)
     

  • Sagebrush Rebellion: A terrible idea that won't go away

The Cliven Bundy phenomenon of 2014 shows that the Sagebrush Rebellion is still very much alive and well today.

Here's another expression of "The Dark Side" of wild horses: 41 Years of Wild Horse Hell, Range Magazine, Summer 2014

BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program Continues to develop:

In 1980, the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range was designated in Colorado. As a "Wild Horse Range" it was set up to be managed principally (though not necessarily exclusively) for wild horses, as opposed to ordinary Herd Management Areas, which are managed strictly within a Multiple Use format.

In 1982 new regulations set adoption fees at $200 for a horse and $75 for burros. It also provided for power of attorney whereby an adopter could elect to have someone else select and adopt in his/her absence. Prior to this time the adoption fee was between $0 and $145.

The Hughes Case established that private individuals can not exercise humane destruction unless authorized. If they do, they can be held criminally responsible.

National Academy of Sciences established methodology for monitoring standards. They called for additional research and information as well as to pull together existing information.

The  BLM Director and Forest Service Chief placed a moratorium on the destruction of unadopted excess animals through the Burford Policy. Prior to this, "excess" animals gathered but not adopted, were "humanely destroyed." This did not sit well with the public.

A congressional committee and the Office of Management and Budget recommended recovery of some of the costs of adoption. In addition to the base adoption fee, additional fees were added if the animal was transported· from the facility where it was prepared for adoption to another adoption center. These additional costs resulted in an immediate chilling effect on new adoption rates. So in 1983, it was abandoned. The adoption fee for a wild horse was reduced from $200 to $125 in response to public concern and reduced adoption demand.

Sale Authority was requested. Bills were introduced (but not passed) to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to allow sale at auction of un-adopted animals. These bills were hotly contested and were not passed.

Holding facilities were set up for 10,000 horses.

, a case " US v Johnson " Held that a person can be criminally prosecuted for conversion (theft) instead of WH&B violations, or in addition to WH&B violations in appropriate cases.

An emergency rule was published that gave the Director the authority to adjust or waive the adoption fee for animals unadopted at the standard fee. To maximize the effect of the rule and to avoid interfering with the regular adoption program, BLM required that  a minimum of 100 animals be involved in each fee waiver or reduction transaction. Approximately 700 otherwise unadoptable animals were placed as a result of this rule between May 1984 and September 30, 1984. However, the public was very suspicious of this program, and it was widely protested.

BLM also eliminated transportation costs to adoption sites, making adoption fees uniform throughout the Country. In 1985 Congress tripled program funding and directed BLM to triple removals. BLM accomplished a record number of removals: 19,000. This, of course, created overcrowding of holding pens. Three holding facilities were in operation that could hold a capacity of up to 3,000 each (Bloomfield, Nebraska, Lovelock, Nevada, and Muleshoe, Texas) if needed. By the end of Fiscal Year {FY) 1985 more than 7,600 animals were being maintained in the contract facilities, and another 2,300 animals were being cared for in BLM's own corrals.

A contract was awarded to the University of Minnesota for a fertility control research project. It was challenged as mishandling and inhumane handling of horses used in research.

In 1986, the Second Advisory Board was held. Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior established a Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board which proposed a 5-step process for excess animals. Step 5 was humane destruction of un adopted animals. Other steps included getting sale authority from Congress, recommending Prison Training, and recommending Sanctuaries to reduce the high cost of holding animals in feedlots. Sanctuaries were supposed to become self sufficient.

Also in 1986, the first inmate-wild horse training program began, in Colorado at the Canon City, Colorado, correctional facility. (prison training was one of the steps recommended by the Advisory Board.)

A lawsuit, Dahl v Clark, was heard in the District Court 9th Circuit Court. The result mandated rules that BLM should manage herds to establish a " Thriving Ecological Balance, with no particular number required.

In 1987, a Draft policy incorporating Advisory Board's recommendations was made available for comment. Public response opposed the proposal to lift the moratorium on destruction of unadopted animals.

Two new maintenance contracts were awarded for FY 1988 to existing facilities at Bloomfield and Lovelock. California, New Mexico, and Wyoming all instituted prison training programs.

In API v Hodel, U.S. District Court for Nevada prohibited BLM from adopting animals or transferring titles to adopters who had "expressed to the Secretary an intent, upon the granting of title, to use said animals for commercial purposes". The decision stated, however, that the BLM is not required to inquire about adopter intentions prior to approving adoptions or conveying titles or to reclaim animals whose titles had already passed to adopters.

A news story covered of an event where BLM was sending wild horses scheduled for destruction to a zoo for use as lion food. This resulted in a lot of negative publicity.

That year, BLM achieved a record number of adoptions - through a combination regular and fee-waiver adoptions.

In 1988, Congress prohibited use of FY 1988 funds to destroy healthy unadopted wild horses and burros. The same prohibition language in the Interior Appropriation Bills every year since.

BLM was issued guidance including most of Advisory Board's recommendations, but not the destruction of unadopted animals.

The First sanctuary for 2000 unadopted excess wild horses was established in Western South Dakota.

With the establishment of federal sanctuaries, BLM terminated their unpopular fee waiver program in September of 1988.

Contract was awarded for one new holding facility (Bloomfield) for FY 1989.

In 1989, BLM had four states with prison sites that were operational, and 1,700 wild horses received training prior to being offered for adoption. A second sanctuary (Long Term Holding, or LTH) was chosen in September near Bartlesville; Oklahoma.

Removals were reduced or stopped in most locations from appeals by humane groups to Interior Board of Land Appeals. Removal decisions must be based on monitoring data. This led to a major population increase in the horse population.

GAO issued a report finding the BLM to be inconsistent on our forage allocation between horses and livestock.

The Third Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was charted in May for a 2-year term. They recommended fertility control, increasing burro fee to $125, creating the First Strategic Plan, and responded to a negative GAO report on the cost and effectiveness of Prison Training.

The BLM Director established a Wild Horse and Burro Steering Committee to focus on critical issues in the administration of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This committee is made up of 5 western Associate State Directors.

In BLM issued the selective removal policy where all excess animals older than 9 years of age were returned to the range to reduce the number of unadoptable  horses.

Ultimately, manipulating population demographics proved to have unexpected negative results, so in more recent times, BLM tries to maintain a more "natural" ratio of ages and gender.

 

POPULATION MANAGEMENT:

Since the initial Act was created in response to fears of wild horse and burro extinction, and was focused on protection, the fact that wild horses have a high reproductive rate and that populations would need to be controlled, perhaps caught people by surprise. But quickly it became a problem.

So horses were gathered. Gathered horses were offered for adoption. But there are problems with gathers, and when more horses are gathered than can be adopted, there are more problems.

A few people realized from almost the beginning that fertility control was needed.

Here is an interesting interview with Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, about population management in the early days of the program:

 

The South Dakota Sanctuary was deemed to be not self-sufficient, and BLM signed agreements for continued maintenance of wild horses.

The BLM Director approved the program's first long-range strategic planning document. This was developed partly to respond to the significant increases in horse populations resulting from legal constraints to gathering beginning in 1989. It changed the driving force of the Wild Horse & Burro program from disposition to herd management.

The Division of Wild Horse and Burro Management was renamed the Wild Horse and Burro National Program Office and moved from Washington, D.C. to Reno, Nevada. BLM began reducing the number of wild horses in the sanctuaries through the adoption program in an effort to reduce costs at the sanctuaries. The selective removal policy changed from 9 years of age and younger to 3 years of age and younger would be removed from the range. In practice, 5 years of age and under were removed during the first gathers under this policy. BLM initiated a pilot fertility control effort.

In another lawsuit, Blake v Babbitt, established that full force and effect decisions are lawful, and that decisions on removals must be based on the best information available at the time.

General initiated a review of the wild horse sanctuaries and the New Mexico prison training program. The South Dakota Sanctuary was closed and the remaining horses were shipped to the Oklahoma Sanctuary. The Black Hills Sanctuary became self-sufficient and still has approximately 200 wild horses.

The Office of Inspector General's report was completed, recommending closure of sanctuaries due to high costs. As a result of this report, a strategy was developed to adopt out the remaining sanctuary horses. Also, as a result of this report, funding to the prison training programs was curtailed . A Wild Horse and Burro web site was developed and activated.

In efforts to adopt older mares proved to be successful. However, geldings were not readily adopted by the public. Adopting these animals far exceeded the expense of maintaining them on the sanctuary.

1996 saw the first Emergency Gathers, which started in July and continued to the end of September. These gathers were conducted in the Southern part of Nevada and on the Nellis Air Force Base . The emergency condition was caused by a lack of rain and forage. By the end of September, BLM removed 3,100 animals under emergency conditions. In August, the Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Team was established to investigate the emergency situation in Nevada.

Starting in January, horses on the Nellis Air Force range were gathered again to reduce the number of animals on the range. A total of 778 animals were gathered, including 16 burros, with 201 animals released back into the herd management area. Since the Nellis herd consisted of older animals, it was recognized that some of these older stallions would be removed to the sanctuary, and some would be halter-trained.

Also in January of 1997, Martha Mendoza, a reporter for the Associated Press, released a damning report of abuses within the BLM system, in which many wild horses ended up at the slaughterhouse. Read LA TImes story by clicking here. The charges were serious and an investigation followed. BLM was ultimately cleared of charges but the public's doubts remained. Read Ms. Mendoza's account of the investigation by clickinghere. Within BLM, The Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program Policy Analysis Team, led by Pete Culp, State Director, Eastern States, was established in January to conduct a review of BLM adoption policies. This review was driven by Associated Press Articles by Martha Mendoza concerning specific allegations of violations of BLM regulations and policy. The panel recommended that all wild horse and burro specialists must receive training, in order to avoid these incidents.

The Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Review Team's final report was issued in February. This report addressed herd management in Nevada as well as overall management in the Wild Horse and Burro Program. In February, Law Enforcement personnel concluded their investigation on wild horses going to slaughter facilities. They found that one quarter of one percent of the animals slaughtered in a year's time were titled wild horses. Wild horses are but a small fraction of the overall horse population in North America, too, so that result wasn't particularly satisfying to the wild horse activists, and the Mendoza report is still talked about by people and groups today.

On March 7, the regulation to change the adoption fee became final. The adoption fee for each wild horse or burro is a minimum of $125 each. Mares with foals are a total of $250 for the pair. In addition, some adoptions may be conducted using a competitive-bidding process.

A settlement with Animal Protection Institute and Fund for Animals was agreed to by BLM. This agreement related to a clause that was to be added to the PMACA which would ask the adopter of their intentions, at the time of adoption, concerning selling the animals for slaughter.

1997 was also the year of the first helicopter gather of wild horses on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. A foal was fatally injured, which resulted in widespread bad press for the BLM program.

In 1998 adoption demand dropped and the focus was shifted somewhat from removals to marketing wild horses and burros. Reduced adoptions started resulting in a backlog of animals in the system. The intent clause and a requirement for a Social Security Number was added to the PMACA.

The East Mojave Preserve was added to the Mojave National Preserve which was established in 1994 by the California Desert Protection Act. The loss of the East Mojave area by BLM resulted in the loss of 4 HMAs and parts of four others. All the burros were removed from these areas by the National Park Service.

Training contracts were issued in several states for the gentling of older horses. These efforts were largely unsuccessful and abandoned. One such plan, shown on Public Television, involved placing a horse in a box and then pouring grain into the box, up to the horse's neck, thus immobilizing it. The horse would then be petted and gently spoken to, until it somehow "earned" that the human was its friend. When some horses died of stress-induced heart attacks, this method was abandoned. Other attempts involved much less draconian techniques, but none had great success.

IINTO THE MODERN ERA:

By the late 1990's, much of the world had access to email and the World Wide Web, allowing much more citizen awareness and participation in wild horse issues. BLM was a bit slow in making use of this opportunity, but many vocal critics of the program were quick to seize the ability to reach millions of people with a simple email. At the same time, Internet chat groups sprung up everywhere, connecting people to information about wild horse adoption and resources for adopters. In the beginning, most of this was volunteer, occurring spontaneously as an outgrowth of actual adopters' enthusiasm for wild horses and burros.

The first Internet adoption was conducted in 1998. These have proven popular, allowing people across the country to adopt horses in far-away holding facilities that they might normally not be able to visit.

In 1999, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was formulated and analyzed. A Population Viability Forum was held in Fort Collins, Colorado A "Statement of Work" between BLM and APHIS approved USDA, Slaughterhouse MOU was finalized.

The first "Satellite down link" adoptions were conducted.

In 2000, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was approved. This strategy called for a 5-year plan, in which massive gathers would reduce wild populations to their set Appropriate Management Level (AML) - a number set through a combination of field science and negotiating with all the various "stakeholders." The plan, approved and funded by Congress, called for a massive increase in gathers, with excess horses that could not be absorbed by the adoption program going to federally-funded "Sanctuaries" also known as LTH (Long-Term Holding).

The plan was to get the entire system of managed herds down to AML by 2005. After that time, only maintenance gathers would be needed, and most of these horses could be adopted through the adoption program. Increased demand for horses through better marketing, combined with natural attrition through horses getting old and dying, would gradually reduce the LTH population.

It was a good plan and still would be - EXCEPT that AML was never reached. Was this because of poor census numbers in the first place or what, I don't know. Briefly in 2005, BLM believed itself to have reached AML, only to discover, a few months later, that they had undercounted and there were thousands more horses still on the range that they had not expected. Massive, and massively protested, gathers continued. The national economic recession of 2007 - 2009 caused adoption fervor to plummet, and so far (2014) adoption demand has never recovered. The large numbers of animals in LTH and the costs associated with caring for them has become a huge political hot button.

The Fund for Animals requested enforcement of the settlement agreement concerning wild horses and burros going to slaughter. The first Facility Managers/Facility Veterinarians/APIDS Veterinarians was held in Fort Collins, Colorado.

This agreement included a title check for any BLM branded animals showing up at slaughter houses. If the animal was accompanied by a valid certificate of title, the slaughter was legal. If not, the animal was not eligible for slaughter and BLM was to be notified to repossess the animal.

Adoption Standardization team was formed Issued contracts for two long term holding facilities- one in Cassody, Kansas, and one in Catossa, Oklahoma. These contracts were not finalized until FY 01.

Temple Grandin reviewed wild horse and burro facilities.

A mentoring agreement was finalized.

A contract was issued to Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., to develop a Marketing Plan.

In 2001 The Strategy was funded by Congress and implemented by BLM. Contracts were finalized for Long Term Holding Facilities. The Marketing Plan prepared by Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., was accepted by BLM in January and implemented in May. Biological Resources Division developed research strategy for the wild horse and burro program.

In 2001, the BLM entered into a partnership with what was originally called the Wild Horse & Burro Foundation, soon changed to Mustang Heritage Foundation to avoid confusion with a private group in Texas by the same name.

Their "Extreme Mustang Makeovers" and later, Mustang Million, Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover, Youth and Yearlings and TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) Programs are very active and effective in popularizing wild horse adoption and raising public awareness.

Since the economic downturn of 2007 - 09, the majority of BLM adoptions (78% in Oregon for instance) were from Mustang Heritage Foundation events.

In 2013, they released the movie, Unbranded, to promote mustang awareness and adoption. The MHF continues to be the largest and most active - not to mention exciting - program in the nation promoting the BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program.

VOLUNTEERISM

The program has always had volunteers, but in the 1990's, it really began to take off, in response partly to the rise in adoptions.

WHOA, (Wild Horse Organized Assistance) founded in part by Wild Horse Annie, and led for many years by Dawn Lappin, was active long before there even was a BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program. WHOA continued to be active throughout the program's history, advocating to Congress for safer, more realistic, humane and effective management, as well as performing "boots to the ground" work raising orphan foals, helping to found the Northern Nevada Correctional Facility's Wild Horse training and adoption program, and operating mustang promotion activities such as the National Wild Horse and Burro Show (now the Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo) 

A group called Wild Horse Mentors/LRTC worked actively with BLM nationwide and especially in the West to help new adopters and encourage new adoptions. Beginning in 1998, they held annual Wild Horse Workshops at various locations across the country, to teach humane gentling methods. The last Wild Horse Workshop was held in 2006. LRTC continues working to help adopters and wild horses, especially the Virginia Range horses who have no legal protection.

The Pacific Wild Horse Club, The Intermountain Wild Horse & Burro Advisors, Florida Wild Horse Club, American Wild Horse & Burro Association, and others across the country continue to provide gentling workshops and other activities. Recently several new wild horse and burro clubs - local, regional, and national - are springing up.

The California BLM Volunteer Program evolved in the early 2000's and at its peak, it involved an organized system of trained volunteers, organized into regional hubs, to help BLM maintain the country's only 99% compliance check record for adoptions. These volunteers performed important work during the heyday of adoptions, ending suddenly with the economic crash and burst of the real estate bubble in about 2008 - 2009. Volunteers are still active at adoption events, bringing their "ambassador" trained mustangs and burros, meeting and greeting the public, helping with setup and managing the silent bid adoptions, etc. With the sudden drop in adoptions after the economic downturn, the Volunteer program has been less active, although volunteers still hold "Meet and Greets" and other activities designed to increase public awareness.

The Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo began in the 1990's as "The National Wild Horse Show", based in Reno, Nevada. It changed its name in 2001 in response to a dream of developing a series of cooperating shows across the country, with points earned for wins, and the Reno event was to be the Grand National Finals for mustangs and burros. This system never developed, but the Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo remains the biggest and perhaps most prestigious wild horse and burro show in the country, attended by mustangs and burros and their adopters from all over the western states, and sometimes further east.

This section just presents "the tip of the iceberg" of volunteer activities across the country - volunteers remain the often unrecognized but driving force behind the very existence and continued success of the wild horse and burro program.

WILD HORSES IN THE 21st CENTURY

 

THE BURNS AMENDMENT2004/2005

The most recent change to the law was the December 2004 sale-authority law (the so-called "Burns Amendment"), which was inserted rather surreptitiously into a budget item, when most of Congress was celebrating the holidays. The much-hated Burns Amendment directs the BLM to sell "without limitation" to any willing buyers animals that are either more than 10 years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times. Read The BLM Page about Sales Authority

  • BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program Continues to develop:

    In 1980, the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range was designated in Colorado. As a "Wild Horse Range" it was set up to be managed principally (though not necessarily exclusively) for wild horses, as opposed to ordinary Herd Management Areas, which are managed strictly within a Multiple Use format.

    In 1982 new regulations set adoption fees at $200 for a horse and $75 for burros. It also provided for power of attorney whereby an adopter could elect to have someone else select and adopt in his/her absence. Prior to this time the adoption fee was between $0 and $145.

    The Hughes Case established that private individuals can not exercise humane destruction unless authorized. If they do, they can be held criminally responsible.

    National Academy of Sciences established methodology for monitoring standards. They called for additional research and information as well as to pull together existing information.

    The  BLM Director and Forest Service Chief placed a moratorium on the destruction of unadopted excess animals through the Burford Policy. Prior to this, "excess" animals gathered but not adopted, were "humanely destroyed." This did not sit well with the public.

    A congressional committee and the Office of Management and Budget recommended recovery of some of the costs of adoption. In addition to the base adoption fee, additional fees were added if the animal was transported· from the facility where it was prepared for adoption to another adoption center. These additional costs resulted in an immediate chilling effect on new adoption rates. So in 1983, it was abandoned. The adoption fee for a wild horse was reduced from $200 to $125 in response to public concern and reduced adoption demand.

    Sale Authority was requested. Bills were introduced (but not passed) to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to allow sale at auction of un-adopted animals. These bills were hotly contested and were not passed.

    Holding facilities were set up for 10,000 horses.

    , a case " US v Johnson " Held that a person can be criminally prosecuted for conversion (theft) instead of WH&B violations, or in addition to WH&B violations in appropriate cases.

    An emergency rule was published that gave the Director the authority to adjust or waive the adoption fee for animals unadopted at the standard fee. To maximize the effect of the rule and to avoid interfering with the regular adoption program, BLM required that  a minimum of 100 animals be involved in each fee waiver or reduction transaction. Approximately 700 otherwise unadoptable animals were placed as a result of this rule between May 1984 and September 30, 1984. However, the public was very suspicious of this program, and it was widely protested.

    BLM also eliminated transportation costs to adoption sites, making adoption fees uniform throughout the Country. In 1985 Congress tripled program funding and directed BLM to triple removals. BLM accomplished a record number of removals: 19,000. This, of course, created overcrowding of holding pens. Three holding facilities were in operation that could hold a capacity of up to 3,000 each (Bloomfield, Nebraska, Lovelock, Nevada, and Muleshoe, Texas) if needed. By the end of Fiscal Year {FY) 1985 more than 7,600 animals were being maintained in the contract facilities, and another 2,300 animals were being cared for in BLM's own corrals.

    A contract was awarded to the University of Minnesota for a fertility control research project. It was challenged as mishandling and inhumane handling of horses used in research.

    In 1986, the Second Advisory Board was held. Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior established a Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board which proposed a 5-step process for excess animals. Step 5 was humane destruction of un adopted animals. Other steps included getting sale authority from Congress, recommending Prison Training, and recommending Sanctuaries to reduce the high cost of holding animals in feedlots. Sanctuaries were supposed to become self sufficient.

    Also in 1986, the first inmate-wild horse training program began, in Colorado at the Canon City, Colorado, correctional facility. (prison training was one of the steps recommended by the Advisory Board.)

    A lawsuit, Dahl v Clark, was heard in the District Court 9th Circuit Court. The result mandated rules that BLM should manage herds to establish a " Thriving Ecological Balance, with no particular number required.

    In 1987, a Draft policy incorporating Advisory Board's recommendations was made available for comment. Public response opposed the proposal to lift the moratorium on destruction of unadopted animals.

    Two new maintenance contracts were awarded for FY 1988 to existing facilities at Bloomfield and Lovelock. California, New Mexico, and Wyoming all instituted prison training programs.

    In API v Hodel, U.S. District Court for Nevada prohibited BLM from adopting animals or transferring titles to adopters who had "expressed to the Secretary an intent, upon the granting of title, to use said animals for commercial purposes". The decision stated, however, that the BLM is not required to inquire about adopter intentions prior to approving adoptions or conveying titles or to reclaim animals whose titles had already passed to adopters.

    A news story covered of an event where BLM was sending wild horses scheduled for destruction to a zoo for use as lion food. This resulted in a lot of negative publicity.

    That year, BLM achieved a record number of adoptions - through a combination regular and fee-waiver adoptions.

    In 1988, Congress prohibited use of FY 1988 funds to destroy healthy unadopted wild horses and burros. The same prohibition language in the Interior Appropriation Bills every year since.

    BLM was issued guidance including most of Advisory Board's recommendations, but not the destruction of unadopted animals.

    The First sanctuary for 2000 unadopted excess wild horses was established in Western South Dakota.

    With the establishment of federal sanctuaries, BLM terminated their unpopular fee waiver program in September of 1988.

    Contract was awarded for one new holding facility (Bloomfield) for FY 1989.

    In 1989, BLM had four states with prison sites that were operational, and 1,700 wild horses received training prior to being offered for adoption. A second sanctuary (Long Term Holding, or LTH) was chosen in September near Bartlesville; Oklahoma.

    Removals were reduced or stopped in most locations from appeals by humane groups to Interior Board of Land Appeals. Removal decisions must be based on monitoring data. This led to a major population increase in the horse population.

    GAO issued a report finding the BLM to be inconsistent on our forage allocation between horses and livestock.

    The Third Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was charted in May for a 2-year term. They recommended fertility control, increasing burro fee to $125, creating the First Strategic Plan, and responded to a negative GAO report on the cost and effectiveness of Prison Training.

    The BLM Director established a Wild Horse and Burro Steering Committee to focus on critical issues in the administration of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This committee is made up of 5 western Associate State Directors.

    In BLM issued the selective removal policy where all excess animals older than 9 years of age were returned to the range to reduce the number of unadoptable  horses.

    Ultimately, manipulating population demographics proved to have unexpected negative results, so in more recent times, BLM tries to maintain a more "natural" ratio of ages and gender.

     

    POPULATION MANAGEMENT:

    Since the initial Act was created in response to fears of wild horse and burro extinction, and was focused on protection, the fact that wild horses have a high reproductive rate and that populations would need to be controlled, perhaps caught people by surprise. But quickly it became a problem.

    So horses were gathered. Gathered horses were offered for adoption. But there are problems with gathers, and when more horses are gathered than can be adopted, there are more problems.

    A few people realized from almost the beginning that fertility control was needed.

    Here is an interesting interview with Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, about population management in the early days of the program:

     

    The South Dakota Sanctuary was deemed to be not self-sufficient, and BLM signed agreements for continued maintenance of wild horses.

    The BLM Director approved the program's first long-range strategic planning document. This was developed partly to respond to the significant increases in horse populations resulting from legal constraints to gathering beginning in 1989. It changed the driving force of the Wild Horse & Burro program from disposition to herd management.

    The Division of Wild Horse and Burro Management was renamed the Wild Horse and Burro National Program Office and moved from Washington, D.C. to Reno, Nevada. BLM began reducing the number of wild horses in the sanctuaries through the adoption program in an effort to reduce costs at the sanctuaries. The selective removal policy changed from 9 years of age and younger to 3 years of age and younger would be removed from the range. In practice, 5 years of age and under were removed during the first gathers under this policy. BLM initiated a pilot fertility control effort.

    In another lawsuit, Blake v Babbitt, established that full force and effect decisions are lawful, and that decisions on removals must be based on the best information available at the time.

    General initiated a review of the wild horse sanctuaries and the New Mexico prison training program. The South Dakota Sanctuary was closed and the remaining horses were shipped to the Oklahoma Sanctuary. The Black Hills Sanctuary became self-sufficient and still has approximately 200 wild horses.

    The Office of Inspector General's report was completed, recommending closure of sanctuaries due to high costs. As a result of this report, a strategy was developed to adopt out the remaining sanctuary horses. Also, as a result of this report, funding to the prison training programs was curtailed . A Wild Horse and Burro web site was developed and activated.

    In efforts to adopt older mares proved to be successful. However, geldings were not readily adopted by the public. Adopting these animals far exceeded the expense of maintaining them on the sanctuary.

    1996 saw the first Emergency Gathers, which started in July and continued to the end of September. These gathers were conducted in the Southern part of Nevada and on the Nellis Air Force Base . The emergency condition was caused by a lack of rain and forage. By the end of September, BLM removed 3,100 animals under emergency conditions. In August, the Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Team was established to investigate the emergency situation in Nevada.

    Starting in January, horses on the Nellis Air Force range were gathered again to reduce the number of animals on the range. A total of 778 animals were gathered, including 16 burros, with 201 animals released back into the herd management area. Since the Nellis herd consisted of older animals, it was recognized that some of these older stallions would be removed to the sanctuary, and some would be halter-trained.

    Also in January of 1997, Martha Mendoza, a reporter for the Associated Press, released a damning report of abuses within the BLM system, in which many wild horses ended up at the slaughterhouse. Read LA TImes story by clicking here. The charges were serious and an investigation followed. BLM was ultimately cleared of charges but the public's doubts remained. Read Ms. Mendoza's account of the investigation by clickinghere. Within BLM, The Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program Policy Analysis Team, led by Pete Culp, State Director, Eastern States, was established in January to conduct a review of BLM adoption policies. This review was driven by Associated Press Articles by Martha Mendoza concerning specific allegations of violations of BLM regulations and policy. The panel recommended that all wild horse and burro specialists must receive training, in order to avoid these incidents.

    The Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Review Team's final report was issued in February. This report addressed herd management in Nevada as well as overall management in the Wild Horse and Burro Program. In February, Law Enforcement personnel concluded their investigation on wild horses going to slaughter facilities. They found that one quarter of one percent of the animals slaughtered in a year's time were titled wild horses. Wild horses are but a small fraction of the overall horse population in North America, too, so that result wasn't particularly satisfying to the wild horse activists, and the Mendoza report is still talked about by people and groups today.

    On March 7, the regulation to change the adoption fee became final. The adoption fee for each wild horse or burro is a minimum of $125 each. Mares with foals are a total of $250 for the pair. In addition, some adoptions may be conducted using a competitive-bidding process.

    A settlement with Animal Protection Institute and Fund for Animals was agreed to by BLM. This agreement related to a clause that was to be added to the PMACA which would ask the adopter of their intentions, at the time of adoption, concerning selling the animals for slaughter.

    1997 was also the year of the first helicopter gather of wild horses on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. A foal was fatally injured, which resulted in widespread bad press for the BLM program.

    In 1998 adoption demand dropped and the focus was shifted somewhat from removals to marketing wild horses and burros. Reduced adoptions started resulting in a backlog of animals in the system. The intent clause and a requirement for a Social Security Number was added to the PMACA.

    The East Mojave Preserve was added to the Mojave National Preserve which was established in 1994 by the California Desert Protection Act. The loss of the East Mojave area by BLM resulted in the loss of 4 HMAs and parts of four others. All the burros were removed from these areas by the National Park Service.

    Training contracts were issued in several states for the gentling of older horses. These efforts were largely unsuccessful and abandoned. One such plan, shown on Public Television, involved placing a horse in a box and then pouring grain into the box, up to the horse's neck, thus immobilizing it. The horse would then be petted and gently spoken to, until it somehow "earned" that the human was its friend. When some horses died of stress-induced heart attacks, this method was abandoned. Other attempts involved much less draconian techniques, but none had great success.

    IINTO THE MODERN ERA:

    By the late 1990's, much of the world had access to email and the World Wide Web, allowing much more citizen awareness and participation in wild horse issues. BLM was a bit slow in making use of this opportunity, but many vocal critics of the program were quick to seize the ability to reach millions of people with a simple email. At the same time, Internet chat groups sprung up everywhere, connecting people to information about wild horse adoption and resources for adopters. In the beginning, most of this was volunteer, occurring spontaneously as an outgrowth of actual adopters' enthusiasm for wild horses and burros.

    The first Internet adoption was conducted in 1998. These have proven popular, allowing people across the country to adopt horses in far-away holding facilities that they might normally not be able to visit.

    In 1999, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was formulated and analyzed. A Population Viability Forum was held in Fort Collins, Colorado A "Statement of Work" between BLM and APHIS approved USDA, Slaughterhouse MOU was finalized.

    The first "Satellite down link" adoptions were conducted.

    In 2000, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was approved. This strategy called for a 5-year plan, in which massive gathers would reduce wild populations to their set Appropriate Management Level (AML) - a number set through a combination of field science and negotiating with all the various "stakeholders." The plan, approved and funded by Congress, called for a massive increase in gathers, with excess horses that could not be absorbed by the adoption program going to federally-funded "Sanctuaries" also known as LTH (Long-Term Holding).

    The plan was to get the entire system of managed herds down to AML by 2005. After that time, only maintenance gathers would be needed, and most of these horses could be adopted through the adoption program. Increased demand for horses through better marketing, combined with natural attrition through horses getting old and dying, would gradually reduce the LTH population.

    It was a good plan and still would be - EXCEPT that AML was never reached. Was this because of poor census numbers in the first place or what, I don't know. Briefly in 2005, BLM believed itself to have reached AML, only to discover, a few months later, that they had undercounted and there were thousands more horses still on the range that they had not expected. Massive, and massively protested, gathers continued. The national economic recession of 2007 - 2009 caused adoption fervor to plummet, and so far (2014) adoption demand has never recovered. The large numbers of animals in LTH and the costs associated with caring for them has become a huge political hot button.

    The Fund for Animals requested enforcement of the settlement agreement concerning wild horses and burros going to slaughter. The first Facility Managers/Facility Veterinarians/APIDS Veterinarians was held in Fort Collins, Colorado.

    This agreement included a title check for any BLM branded animals showing up at slaughter houses. If the animal was accompanied by a valid certificate of title, the slaughter was legal. If not, the animal was not eligible for slaughter and BLM was to be notified to repossess the animal.

    Adoption Standardization team was formed Issued contracts for two long term holding facilities- one in Cassody, Kansas, and one in Catossa, Oklahoma. These contracts were not finalized until FY 01.

    Temple Grandin reviewed wild horse and burro facilities.

    A mentoring agreement was finalized.

    A contract was issued to Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., to develop a Marketing Plan.

    In 2001 The Strategy was funded by Congress and implemented by BLM. Contracts were finalized for Long Term Holding Facilities. The Marketing Plan prepared by Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., was accepted by BLM in January and implemented in May. Biological Resources Division developed research strategy for the wild horse and burro program.

    In 2001, the BLM entered into a partnership with what was originally called the Wild Horse & Burro Foundation, soon changed to Mustang Heritage Foundation to avoid confusion with a private group in Texas by the same name.

    Their "Extreme Mustang Makeovers" and later, Mustang Million, Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover, Youth and Yearlings and TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) Programs are very active and effective in popularizing wild horse adoption and raising public awareness.

    Since the economic downturn of 2007 - 09, the majority of BLM adoptions (78% in Oregon for instance) were from Mustang Heritage Foundation events.

    In 2013, they released the movie, Unbranded, to promote mustang awareness and adoption. The MHF continues to be the largest and most active - not to mention exciting - program in the nation promoting the BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program.

    VOLUNTEERISM

    The program has always had volunteers, but in the 1990's, it really began to take off, in response partly to the rise in adoptions.

    WHOA, (Wild Horse Organized Assistance) founded in part by Wild Horse Annie, and led for many years by Dawn Lappin, was active long before there even was a BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program. WHOA continued to be active throughout the program's history, advocating to Congress for safer, more realistic, humane and effective management, as well as performing "boots to the ground" work raising orphan foals, helping to found the Northern Nevada Correctional Facility's Wild Horse training and adoption program, and operating mustang promotion activities such as the National Wild Horse and Burro Show (now the Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo) 

    A group called Wild Horse Mentors/LRTC worked actively with BLM nationwide and especially in the West to help new adopters and encourage new adoptions. Beginning in 1998, they held annual Wild Horse Workshops at various locations across the country, to teach humane gentling methods. The last Wild Horse Workshop was held in 2006. LRTC continues working to help adopters and wild horses, especially the Virginia Range horses who have no legal protection.

    The Pacific Wild Horse Club, The Intermountain Wild Horse & Burro Advisors, Florida Wild Horse Club, American Wild Horse & Burro Association, and others across the country continue to provide gentling workshops and other activities. Recently several new wild horse and burro clubs - local, regional, and national - are springing up.

    The California BLM Volunteer Program evolved in the early 2000's and at its peak, it involved an organized system of trained volunteers, organized into regional hubs, to help BLM maintain the country's only 99% compliance check record for adoptions. These volunteers performed important work during the heyday of adoptions, ending suddenly with the economic crash and burst of the real estate bubble in about 2008 - 2009. Volunteers are still active at adoption events, bringing their "ambassador" trained mustangs and burros, meeting and greeting the public, helping with setup and managing the silent bid adoptions, etc. With the sudden drop in adoptions after the economic downturn, the Volunteer program has been less active, although volunteers still hold "Meet and Greets" and other activities designed to increase public awareness.

    The Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo began in the 1990's as "The National Wild Horse Show", based in Reno, Nevada. It changed its name in 2001 in response to a dream of developing a series of cooperating shows across the country, with points earned for wins, and the Reno event was to be the Grand National Finals for mustangs and burros. This system never developed, but the Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo remains the biggest and perhaps most prestigious wild horse and burro show in the country, attended by mustangs and burros and their adopters from all over the western states, and sometimes further east.

    This section just presents "the tip of the iceberg" of volunteer activities across the country - volunteers remain the often unrecognized but driving force behind the very existence and continued success of the wild horse and burro program.

    WILD HORSES IN THE 21st CENTURY

     

    THE BURNS AMENDMENT2004/2005

    The most recent change to the law was the December 2004 sale-authority law (the so-called "Burns Amendment"), which was inserted rather surreptitiously into a budget item, when most of Congress was celebrating the holidays. The much-hated Burns Amendment directs the BLM to sell "without limitation" to any willing buyers animals that are either more than 10 years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times. Read The BLM Page about Sales Authority

    Public acceptance of this law has been rabidly poor. BLM states on their own website that "It has been and remains the policy of the BLM, despite the unrestricted sales authority of the Burns Amendment, notto sell any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to "kill buyers. After several well-publicized sales scandals, the most recent (as of this writing) being the ProPublica expose' of Tom Davis in Colorado, (Click here to read) BLM issued this January, 2013 News Memo:

    January 4, 2013 WASHINGTON, D.C. (BLM) - The Bureau of Land Management today announced a policy - in the form of what's known as an interim Instruction Memorandum - regarding new conditions and restrictions on wild horse and burro sales. The new policy was prompted by the BLM's overall effort to improve its management and care of wild horses and burros that roam Western public rangelands. "Today's announcement marks another step forward in our agency's steady improvement in ensuring the health and humane treatment of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range," said BLM Acting Director Mike Pool. The new policy, which is effective immediately, will remain so until the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program publishes additional guidance on wild horse and burro sales. The policy stipulates that: * No more than four wild horses and/or wild burros may be bought by an individual or group within a six-month period from the BLM without prior approval of the Bureau's Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning. * When buying wild horses and/or wild burros, purchasers must describe where they intend to keep the animals for the first six months following the sale. Without prior approval from the Assistant Director, the BLM will not sell more than four animals destined for a single location in this six-month period. * Buyers must provide transportation for the purchased animal from the BLM's short- term holding corrals or other locations to its new home. Specifics regarding acceptable trailers can be obtained from the new interim policy, which is posted at: (Link to Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-032) *The BLM will inspect trailers and reserves the right to refuse loading if the trailer does not ensure the safety and humane transport of the animal. The BLM encourages anyone who has observed inhumane treatment or the sale to a slaughterhouse of a federally protected wild horse or burro, or who has factual information about such an incident, to contact the Bureau at wildhorse@blm.gov or 866-4MUSTANGS (866-468-7826) with your name, contact information, and specific information about what you saw or know about.

    MODERN DAY WILD HORSES
     

    Today's wild horse management issues are extremely complex. If you are looking for simplistic answers, you will not find them here. The best thing you can do is to continually educate yourself and make your own decisions. Talk to people. Talk to BLM personnel, ranchers, wild horse advocates, recreationists, hunters & fishermen, campers, bikers, field biologists, and wild horse adopters. Go visit the range yourself if you can and see for yourself what it's like. If you are lucky, you may get to watch a band of wild horses or burros as they go about their daily lives. Read from multiple sources, not just the passionately worded campaign that arrives in the email.

    The high reproductive rate of wild horses presents a major challenge to wild horse management, in part because a large segment of the politically-active population doesn't believe it. Since effective on-the-range fertility control remains elusive for a variety of reasons, gathering remains BLM's main management tool. But this has resulted in a large buildup of horses in holding facilities, the care of which uses up most of BLM's meager budget. As the public has become more aware of gathers, considerable public protest has developed, as modern-day animal lovers find the process hard to handle. Congress and anti-wild horse lobbies are starting to object to the costs of maintaining captured horses in holding facilities. We are starting to see lawsuits filed by anti-wild horse groups to force BLM to remove more horses and burros, even as the budget is tighter than ever.

    Many advocates do not agree that population growth is a problem, believing that if allowed the chance, wild horse populations would "self-regulate." The National Academy of Science in a sense agrees, saying that if there are more horses in an area than the land can support, the horses will weaken and die off. This die-off would be accompanied by a similar decline in other wildlife and  degradation to the environment. The NAS questions whether this would be a price that we would be willing to pay. Others simply don't believe the figures and insist that the land could support more horses than it currently does. Others focus on pointing out the damages done by competing uses, such as livestock and energy extraction.

    So we find ourselves today, watching two primary forces among wild horse advocates: Those who want active on-the-range management and those who don't. Many believe that the best policy forward would be implementing widespread fertility control on the range, using drugs such as PZP or GonaCon, and spaying older mares who have already contributed to the herd's gene pool. Other call this "managing for extinction." They believe that removals are the primary problem, that wild horses are disappearing, and that the best policy is to allow them to run free with no human interference. There are also advocates for "letting nature take its course" - folks who believe it is better for a horse to die of thirst and starvation than to lose its freedom.

    Among non-advocates, we see campaigns to to re-open horse slaughter plants in the US and to send excess wild horses to them, or to sell excess wild horses to zoos and similar facilities, for feeding to zoo animals (this would circumvent the need for slaughterhouses for human consumption).

    Protracted drought in the Great Basin areas, very limited funding for adoption programs, renewed "Sagebrush Rebellion" forces wanting to get rid of wild horses and the BLM program, increasing urbanization with changing demographics (less interest in horses and less ability to own one) are other critical challenges to the viability of the wild horse program today.

    WHAT ARE WILD HORSES AND WHAT IS THEIR VALUE?

    Today's wild horses are descendants - in some cases after 100 generations or more, of domestic horses brought to North America by Europeans beginning in 1493. These long-ago domestics were descendants of native North American-evolved horses who crossed over into Asia during the prehistoric days of Beringea. Some say this qualifies horses as being a native species. Others find this too big a stretch.



     

    Wild horses deserve our respect if for no other reason than that they've survived everything we have thrown at them over the years."
    - Jay Fitzpatrick

     

    WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

    What makes Mustangs special is their history and their wildness. Nothing matches the thrill of chancing upon a band of mustangs or burros in the wild. They are a Heritage Animal, deserving of protection, and management both within their environment as well as in captivity.

    It is interesting that BLM receives the most bad publicity and the most criticism in its management of wild horses. Often this is due simply to ignorance. Many other agencies have jurisdiction over groups of wild horses, and some of these sometimes make news by handling their wild horses in a way that is disturbing to the public. But since BLM is the largest and most visible manager of wild horses, the public assumes the bad deed was done by BLM. Some people argue that Reservation horses (on Native American reservations) whould be considered "mustangs" since they are allowed to range freely on the land. Their numbers dwarf the entire BLM system, and traditionally these horses are a cash crop, periodically rounded up and run through the nearest livestock auction, usually going for meat. Indian reservations, the National Park Service, the Sheldon USFWS preserve, and The Nevada Department of Agriculture all just catch and sell, with only sporadic and variably-supervised attempts to prevent the horses from being slaughtered. Some agencies openly and directly sell to slaughter buyers.

    BLM is currently the only agency that both manages wild populations and supports and protects the horses who are removed from the wild. It is not the intent of this website to be political, only to present information as accurately as possible. This is accurate.

    Imagine for yourself what a "thriving ecological balance" might look like... 

    MODERN CHALLENGES

    Wild Horse & Burro Protection and Management & Preservation efforts in recent times have collided headlong with a difficult mix of circumstances:

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    Climate change has contributed to longer and worse droughts, and more frequent, hotter wildfires in the Great basin area; This reduces the land's ability to support animals, and reduces its likelihood of recovering if it has already been overgrazed. When fragile areas are disturbed, they may never recover.
     

    Increased pressures on public lands for human enterprises such as energy development, mineral extraction, recreation, hunting and fishing, RV-ing, ATV-ing, biking, and housing and industrial development.
     

    BLM Budget Restrictions: BLM today gets only enough money to perform emergency gathers and to feed the horses it already has in holding. Adoption events are being cut back, resulting in even fewer adoptions and lowered public awareness. Because the money is going to care for horses already in holding, gathers have been cut back, which is resulting in serious overpopulation problems on the range. The Wild Horse & Burro Program of the BLM has always been, and remains, one of the most poorly-funded programs in government.

    BLM has never once, since 1971, reached "AML" (Appropriate Management Level" - a number set through a process that includes range science, politics, and public pressures).
      The faltering national economy starting in about 2007 -2009 has made horse ownership out of reach for many would-be adopters.
     

    Loss of land available for any kind of equine use (boarding stables, trails, affordable competition facilities, etc) which restricts people's ability to have or enjoy horses, which reduces interest in horses, etc - a downward spiral. Development of former "horse property" into housing developments, vineyards, etc, making it hard to find a place to keep a horse.
     

      Changing national demographics: Wild horses are on fewer and fewer people's radar. Today huge blocks of the population have no experience, awareness or interest in horses of any kind. Fewer and fewer people dream of owning a horse. Even fewer have the skill-sets needed to be successful with even a dead-broke domestic horse, let alone a wild one. The adoption market for wild horses is shrinking.
     

     Publicity exposing the fact that most domestic horses sold for slaughter are contaminated with drugs, has turned the eyes of the foreign and American gourmet market to our wild horses - the last uncontaminated source. Attempts to get them into the horse slaughter pipelines (still legal and operative in Canada, Mexico, and Europe and Asia) through pressuring BLM to exercise Sale Authority and to reduce the numbers of horses in Long Term Holding facilities are continuous.
     

     The political climate concerning wild horse issues is as polarized as the rest of the nation is on other issues:

    On the one hand, we see a resurgence of the Sagebrush Rebellion among ranchers who are feeling the pinch of the economy, drought, and environmental pressures.Click Here for a story of a 2014 "Show Down"(If you read this article all the way through, you will start to get an idea of the complexity of some of these issues. It isn't just a matter of whether or not you care about horses)

    At the other end, organized "Advocacy" groups continue to press lawsuits and other pressures to stop gathers and prevent fertility control programs.

    Today BLM-managed wild horse herds are found in California, Eastern Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and one small area of Montana.

    Wild horses and burros exist elsewhere, too, throughout the country, but are not managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area around Reno and Carson City, Nevada, are mostly not managed by BLM and have no legal protections, but are in prime wild horse country. (These are called "Comstock" or "Virginia Range" horses)

    Wild horses and burros can be found on private, County, US Fish & Wildlife, Indian Reservation, State Park and even one or two National Park lands. Reservation horses are not necessarily true "Mustangs" but they are often as unhandled as any, and their sheer numbers are gaining national notice.

    The buildup of gathered wild horses in holding facilities and the restrictions of the BLM budget to perform on-the-range management or to promote adoptions, combined with all the forces listed above, would seem to be creating a Perfect Storm for disaster unless something changes. It is up to each of us, as individuals and as groups, to work to understand the issues and to help develop humane and effective solutions.

    It is easy to feel very alarmist at the current situation. And yet, going back and reading through the history of the wild horse movement, nothing much has really changed. The same forces are still duking out in much the same way they always have.

     

     

    Today’s wild horses are a true American Melting Pot of horses and with the help of Natural Selection, they are intelligent, sound-minded, sure-footed, and strong. Mustangs normally have excellent feet that often do not require shoes, and strong, hardy constitutions. Having had the benefit of life within a functional natural social unit, they are well-socialized and savvy. Time will tell how it plays out into the future. Will there be wild herds for our grandchildren to enjoy?

 

SOURCES FOR THIS PAGE AND RECOMMENDED READINGS:

Into the Wind: Wild Horses of North America

by Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Photos by Michael H. Francis

Dr. Kirkpatrick was best known for his work with PZP fertility treatment. But in this book he shares his passion and love for wild horses everywhere, as he explores their history, behavior, and biology.

Wild Horse Controversy

by Heather Smith Thomas

A fascinating and well-researched history of wild horses in America, written in 1979. Much more thorough than many wild horse histories, and more balanced than many books with an agenda - whether for or against Mustangs.

The Mustangs

by Frank Dobie
originally published in 1934, re-published with a forward by Dayton Hyde in 2005

A classic! The History, Lore, Romance, and cultural impact of the wild horse in America, from long before the Wild Horse & Burro Program.

The more things change, the more they stay the same... 

The Nature of Horses

 by Stephen Budiansky

Great science, great writing. Highly recommended!

America's Last Wild Horses:
The Classic Study of the Mustangs--Their Pivotal Role in the History of the West,
Their Return to the Wild, and the Ongoing Efforts to Preserve Them

By Hope Ryden

The long title says it all. Hope Ryden was a journalist who became a prominent activist in the struggle to get the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed, and to influence development of the BLM wild horse and burro program as we know it today.


Click here for Nevada BLM'S
"MUSTANG COUNTRY"
FREE online booklet
It's chock full of info for mustang buffs, including wild horse history, visitor tips and camping info.

Honest Horses: Wild Horses of the Great Basin

by Paula Morin

Explores the many facets of wild horse issues and history, through the eyes of a wide range of participants, observers, and "stake holders."

Mustang! Spirit of the West

by Marguerite Henry

This is a book written for kids, so it's good for kids. But adults might also enjoy this easy-reading introduction to Wild Horse Annie.

Mustang:
The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West

by Deanne Stillman

A passionately written, riveting read. Well-researched on the history side, quite weak on the modern side.

Dr. Jay Fitzpatrick & Dr. Patricia Fazio:
Wild Horses as Native Wildlife

Two scientists make a case for abandoning the "invasive non-native species" onus
that has been the basis of so many laws affecting wild horses.