Battle Mountain Wild Horse & Burro Program

 wild horses

 General Introduction 

The Battle Mountain Field Office, Shoshone Eureka Planning Area contains 12 Herd Management Areas totaling approximately 1,800,000 acres. 
 
The Bureau of Land Management has established Herd Management Areas (HMAs) through the Land Use Planning process.  The Battle Mountain Field Office, Shoshone Eureka Planning Area contains 12 Herd Management Areas totaling approximately 1,800,000 acres.   The 2007 estimated population of these 12 HMAs is approximately 3,188 wild horses, and 108 wild burros. The BMFO only manages one burro area, the Hickison Burro HMA.   Find out more about Battle Mountain Field Office HMAs, Augusta Mountains, Bald Mountain, Callaghan, Desatoya, Diamond Mountain, Fish Creek, Hickison BurroNew Pass/Ravenswood, Roberts Mountain, Rocky Hills, Seven Mile, South Shoshone, and Whistler Mountain.  The Tonopah Field Station contains 15 Herd Management Areas (HMAs) totaling approximately 1,200,000 acres.  Find out about Tonopah Field Station HMA's, Bullfrog, Dunlap, Fish Lake Valley, Gold Mountain, Goldfield, Hot Creek, Little Fish Lake, Montezuma, Palmetto, Reveille, Saulsbury, Stone Cabin, Paymaster/Lone Mountain, Sand Springs West, Silver Peak and Stonewall.
 
Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) have been established for all Herd Management Areas, in order to promote a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple use relationships with other rangeland users. AMLs are established or adjusted following the collection of monitoring and other data, analysis by an interdisciplinary team, and coordination with the interested public.
 
The Wild Horse and Burro Specialists conduct census work using helicopters or airplanes to monitor and inventory the wild horse populations on an ongoing basis (about every 2-4 years). When it is determined that the population in a HMA has exceeded the AML, a gather is planned for that area to remove excess wild horses or burros. An Environmental Assessment is completed and issued to the interested public for comment prior to commencing the gather activities. Currently the Battle Mountain Field Office conducts 2-4 wild horse gathers per year. When not conducting gathers, the Wild Horse and Burro Specialists assist with interdisciplinary Range Health Evaluations, range monitoring, and conducting wild horse and burro adoptions. In the coming years, the Battle Mountain Field Office will be completing Herd Management Area Plans, which will include detailed information about the herds, and long term management of these herds.
 
Management of wild horses and burros involves periodic census activities, which typically use helicopter to inventory the HMAs, as well as on the ground monitoring of habitat, animal health and distribution. The majority of wild horse foals are born between March 1 and July 1 annually. Throughout the SEPA, populations increase by 10-22% annually. Burro populations may foal year round, and may not increase at the same levels as wild horses. Appropriate Management Levels have been established for all HMAs administered by the BMFO. When census and other data indicate that the AMLs have been exceeded, gathers are planned to reduce the populations within HMAs to the AML in order to prevent deterioration of the range associated with an overpopulation of wild horses or burros.

Climate and Terrain

The terrain across most of the Shoshone-Eureka Planning Area is typical of the Great Basin region with steep north and south trending mountain ranges separated by large sweeping valley bottoms. Nevada has the largest number of mountain ranges in the United States. Central Nevada is sometimes referred to as a high desert or a cold desert with elevations ranging from 6,000 feet in the valley bottoms to over 10,000 feet on the mountain peaks. Temperatures range from in excess of 100 degrees in the summer to less than 20 degrees below zero in the winter. Precipitation is in short supply with an annual total of only 5 to 16 inches. Nevada is the driest state in the nation with the least amount of annual rainfall and the lowest amount of surface water. Drought conditions occur 3-4 years out of every 10 years.
 
Many HMAs encompass mountain ranges and include mountain browse, meadow, mahogany and pinion and juniper vegetation types interspersed with perennial streams and springs. Wild horses and burros also use sparsely vegetated, rocky mountains with limited water. Winter habitat typically consists of valley bottoms and lower elevations that may support winterfat or other salt desert shrub vegetation. The primary vegetation types used by wild horses consist of Wyoming or Mountain big sagebrush with an understory of perennial grass. Wild burros are able to thrive in more desert type conditions than wild horses. Wild horse and burro populations generally move throughout or between HMAs in response to a number of factors.
 
Wild horse and burro distribution throughout HMAs varies greatly throughout the year and is influenced by forage and water availability, precipitation, temperature, snowfall and other climatic factors, population size and resulting animal density (competition), and human disturbance caused from OHV use, roads, mining, recreation and other uses that occur on the public lands. 
 
Water availability is a key influence to wild horse use during summer months. Wild horses will generally travel much farther to water than will livestock. In many HMAs water sources are plentiful and supplied by perennial streams, springs, and human constructed water developments such as livestock water tanks and ponds. In other cases, water sources are limiting, and in drought years, wild horses may have difficulty accessing sufficient water, especially if the population exceeds the Appropriate Management Level (AML). In these cases, wild horse distribution is closely tied to the location of the available waters, which become very important to the health of the herd.
 
Some of the rangeland within the HMAs has been burned by wildfire in past years, or has been degraded by past overgrazing and may not support the potential perennial species, but instead is dominated by annuals or undesirable weeds. In some locations, it may require 25 acres to support one wild horse for a month.
 
In addition to the wild horses, the Herd Management Areas are often utilized by domestic cattle and domestic sheep. Wildlife species occurring in the areas include mule deer, sage grouse, chukar, coyote, mountain lion, bobcat, pronghorn antelope and numerous other small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Wild Horse Herd Characteristics

The wild horse herds across the Shoshone-Eureka Planning Area are typically comprised of numerous bands of animals. Bands usually consist of a stallion with a harem of mares, although bands can also be comprised of several young stud horses who have not yet acquired their own band of mares. The number of animals in each band average from one to fourteen head. 
 
The average HMA population managed by the BMFO is approximately 220 wild horses, with the average HMA size 114,300 acres. The smallest wild horse or burro HMA is Whistler Mountain HMA 43,000 acres in size, and the largest is New Pass Ravenswood 260,000. In some cases, wild horses do not fully utilize the entire HMA due to forage availability, water shortages, or human disturbance. Movement of wild horses between HMAs occurs where HMA boundaries are contiguous or near each other, and when fences do not impede the interchange. 
 
Wild horses in the Herd Management Areas (HMAs) are descendants of horses released by or escaped from early explorers, ranchers and settlers. The exact parentage of the wild horses may never be known, however, since 2001, the Battle Mountain Field Office has been drawing blood for genetics analysis from wild horses released back to the range during gather operations. 
 
The HMAs administered by the BMFO include wild horses of a variety of traits. In general, wild horses average 14.5-15 hands tall at the withers. Mares will weigh 700-800 pounds, and larger studs may reach 1,200 pounds. Wild horses appear to continue to grow and “fill out” until 4-5 years of age, although most of the mature height will be reached by around age 3. Bay coloring seems to be dominant in many herds, comprising up to 40% of the horses. Sorrel, brown and black colorings are also common. Less common coloring includes buckskin, palomino, blue and red roan, and grey. Some herds include grulla coloring, and may include horses with primitive markings such as stripes down the back, or on the withers and legs. Some herds have horses with striking face and leg markings such as blazed faces or stockings on the legs. Each HMA has its own distinct traits for the most part, which the BLM will preserve through gathers and selection of horses to release with historic traits.
 
A few of the herds managed by the BMFO contain wild horses with curly haircoats. These horses are believed to have descended from curly horses brought to the United States and released in the Eureka, Nevada area in the 1800’s.  

Wild Burro Herd Characteristics

Wild burros are not like wild horses in that they do not run in family groups composed of a dominant stallion and several mares or harems.  Instead burros tend to form loose knit social groups.  Wild burros are social in nature and they stay together more from desire to than need.  Large groups of burros may stay together for an afternoon or for several days, but eventually they break up and go their separate ways.  The strongest bond is between a jenny and her foal.  They may stay together for as long as two years.
 
Wild burros are herbivores, or grazing animals, and in nature are a prey species.  To survive, they depend on their keen sense of smell, sight and sound.  They are most vulnerable when their sight is restricted as they dip their head to eat or drink.  They continually work their ears to pick up sounds that may warn them of potential threat or danger.  The direction that they point their ears indicates the area that they are looking or thinking about.  

Map of Mount Lewis HMAs


Maps of Tonopah's Eastern HMAs


Map of Tonopah's Western HMAs