Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts
Contact: Tom Gorey, BLM Public Affairs (202-912-7420)
Updated as of March 8, 2013
Wild Horse and Burro Population
The Bureau of Land Management estimates that approximately 37,300 wild horses and burros (about 31,500 horses and 5,800 burros) are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, based on the latest data available, compiled as of February 29, 2012. Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, the agency must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control herd sizes.
The estimated current free-roaming population exceeds by nearly 11,000 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The maximum appropriate management level (AML) is approximately 26,500.
Off the range, there are more than 50,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term corrals and long-term pastures. (As of Feb. 7, 2013, there were 15,705 horses and 1,348 burros in corrals and 33,664 horses in pastures. The combined figure of 50,717 animals in holding compares to the BLM's total holding capacity of 52,986.) All wild horses and burros in holding, like those roaming Western public rangelands, are protected by the BLM under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
Wild Horse and Burro Acreage
In 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, these animals were found roaming across 53.8 million acres known as Herd Areas, of which 42.4 million acres were under the BLM's jurisdiction. Today the BLM manages wild horses and burros in 179 subsets of these Herd Areas (known as Herd Management Areas) that comprise 31.6 million acres, of which 26.9 million acres are under BLM management. For the answer to the question "What happened to the 'missing' 22.2 million acres on which wild horses and burros were found roaming?," see below. Also, it should be noted that under the 1971 Act, horses and burros may not be re-located to other public lands where they were not found roaming when the law was passed.
Wild Horse and Burro Budget
Congress appropriated $74.9 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program in Fiscal Year 2012, which ended September 30, 2012. Of that year's expenditures ($72.4 million), holding costs accounted for $43 million (59.3 percent). Gathers and removals cost $7.8 million (10.8 percent); adoption events cost $7.1 million (9.8 percent). (The $2.5 million difference between appropriations and expenditures is the amount of money “obligated” to certain activities but not actually spent.)
Removing Wild Horses and Burros from the Range and Placing Animals in Adoption
To help ensure that herd sizes are in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses, the BLM removed 8,283 animals (7,269 horses and 1,014 burros) from the range in Fiscal Year 2012, which ended September 30, 2012. The Bureau placed 2,598 removed animals into private care through adoption in FY 2012 -- down from 5,701 in FY 2005. Since 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the BLM has adopted out more than 230,000 horses and burros. For more information about adoptions, please visit How to Adopt and the national adoption schedule.
Population Growth-Suppression Treatments
The BLM applied 1,051 PZP (porcine zona pellucida) fertility-control treatments to mares in FY 2012 and released 180 more stallions than mares back into herds during gather operations, for a grand total of 1,195 population growth-suppression treatments in FY 2012.
With regard to a call by advocacy groups for a moratorium on all BLM gathers of herds, this is untenable given the fact that herds grow at an average rate of 20 percent a year and can double in size every four years.*
* Eberhardt, L. L., Majorowicz, A. K. & Wilcox, J. A. (1982). Apparent Rates of Increase for Two Feral Horse Herds. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 46(2), 367-374.
Garrott, Robert A., Siniff, Donald B. & Eberhardt, L. Lee. (1991). Growth Rates of Feral Horse Populations. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 55(4), 641-648.
Garrott, Robert A. & Taylor, Lynne. (1990). Dynamics of a Feral Horse Population in Montana. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 54(4), 603-612.
The ecosystems of public rangelands are not able to withstand the impacts from overpopulated herds, which include soil erosion, sedimentation of streams, and damage to wildlife habitat. As for the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, Section 1333 of that law mandates that once the Interior Secretary "determines...on the basis of all information currently available to him, that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to remove excess animals, he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels."
About 8,400 wild horses and burros immediately became eligible for sale under the December 2004 sale-authority law (the so-called "Burns Amendment"), which 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. Since 2005, the Bureau has sold more than 5,400 horses and burros. The BLM, despite the unrestricted sales authority of the Burns Amendment, has not been selling any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to "kill buyers."
The proceeds from the sale of the eligible animals are used for the BLM’s wild horse and burro adoption program, as directed by Congress under the sale-authority law.
BLM’s Legal Mandates
The BLM manages the nation’s public lands for multiple uses, in accordance with the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The Bureau manages wild horses and burros as part of this multiple-use mandate.
The BLM manages, protects, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (as amended by Congress in 1976, 1978, 1996, and 2004). This law authorizes the BLM to remove excess wild horses and burros from the range to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands.
In enforcing the 1971 Act, the BLM continues to work with law-enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of those who violate this landmark law. The text of the law can be accessed here.