Nevada Wild Horses & Burros

Rangeland Health

What are healthy rangelands? Why are they important?
Healthy rangelands provide a variety of habitats for resident animals. Available grasses, forbs and shrubs offer WH&B (and the other animals dependent on these lands) a nutritious buffet which can carry the animals through all but the most extreme drought or winter conditions.

Each year homes are lost or damaged from flooding, earthquakes or mud slides. Often these homes collapse because they aren’t built on a solid foundation. Without a solid foundation, your home may shift, sag, or even be destroyed.

Healthy rangelands are the foundation for the habitat (home) provided to wildlife, domestic livestock and wild horses and burros. Healthy rangelands provide a diverse mix of grasses, forbs and shrubs. In the Great Basin, healthy rangelands exhibit a mix of perennial grasses such as Great Basin wild rye, bluebunch wheatgrass, and Indian ricegrass. Forbs are less common, while shrubs – such as sagebrush, bitterbrush and fourwing salt brush – are common. Aspen and juniper or pinyon trees may also be common. In the Mojave Desert environment, healthy habitats are characterized by galleta grass, muhlenbergia, evening primrose, globe mallow, yucca and Joshua trees.

Did You Know? 
Most western rangelands produce only a few hundred pounds of vegetation per acre annually, compared to mid- and tall-grass prairies in the central and eastern United States which can produce several hundred pounds of vegetation annually. 

In Nevada, many areas receive an average of only 5 inches of precipitation each year. These sites often produce only 50-100 pounds of usable forage per acre.

Without proper management, the range may be damaged. Desirable native species may be replaced by invasive non-native species such as cheatgrass or Red brome, or noxious weeds such as knapweed or perennial pepperweed. These weedy species out-compete native species, further reducing vegetation diversity. Under these conditions, the range may become unable to produce forage and habitat for the many animals that live there.

In order to assure proper management, BLM allocates the forage provided by these habitats for use by domestic livestock, wildlife and wild horses and burros. Limiting the use by grazing animals helps to ensure that vegetation is not overgrazed and reduces the risk of invasion by weedy species. 

Did You Know?
Question: Based on an average production of only 50 pounds per acre per year, how many acres would be needed to feed one horse for one year?

Answer: The average Nevada mustang needs about 1,000 pounds of forage per month x 12 months = 12,000 pounds/50 pounds forage/acre = 240 acres per horse. But the actual number of acres needed to support one horse may actually be much greater…this is because much of Nevada is too steep, or has a lot of brush and trees, or is too far from water to be used by wild horses and burros.

The number of wild horses and burros which can graze without damage to the range is called the appropriate management level. In the absence of an effective fertility control agent, predators, or other natural population controls, BLM removes excess horses and burros every year to assure that numbers are in balance with the land’s ability to provide sustainable forage and protect rangeland health.

By contrast, wildlife population numbers are controlled mainly through hunting while domestic livestock use is strictly controlled through the terms and conditions outlined in grazing permits.