While working to achieve and maintain a desired herd population size (also known as Appropriate Management Level, or AML), the goal of the BLM is to selectively remove excess wild horses from the range to make sure that the sex and age structure of the remaining population meets management objectives and/or population goals.
This practice emphasizes the removal of excess younger animals because they are more appealing to the public for adoption. This applies to all gathers but there can be exceptions when managers need to achieve a desired population size. In those cases, all animals captured are removed without consideration of sex or age.
Animals are declared excess only after a review of current information regarding grazing utilization and distribution, trend in range ecological condition, actual use, climate (weather), current population inventory, wild horses and burros located outside the Herd Management Area (HMA) or Herd Area (HA), and/or other land health assessments that demonstrate a removal is needed to restore or maintain range health. This review is needed to complete the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis and decision for wild horse and burro removals.
The BLM removes wild horses in the following order:
Wild horses four years old and younger usually make up about half of the herd and are the first priority for removal and placement into the national adoption program.
Wild horses 11 to 19 years old are removed from an HMA only if the agency cannot meet management goals and objectives for the herd by removing horses four years and younger or if specific exceptions prevent them from being returned to the range.
The BLM’s sale authority (which authorizes the direct sale of animals over 10 years old) helps in placing this age group, particularly mares, in good homes. Also, animals in this age group spend less time in long-term holding pastures, which helps control holding costs.
Wild horses five to 10 years old are in the prime of their reproductive lives and are the lowest priority for removal. A core group of animals in this age group is needed for continuation of the herd. However, some excess animals in this age range may be removed if the BLM cannot meet management goals for the herd through the removal of animals in other categories.
Adoption records show that this age group is not as appealing to the public. Most people prefer younger animals. Also, there is no sale authority for this age group and, if placed in long-term holding pastures, this age group lives the longest, adding to holding costs.
20 Years and Older
Wild horses 20 years old and older are not removed from HMAs unless specific conditions prevent them from being returned to the range. In general, if removed this age group has greater difficulty adapting to the changes of living in captivity and handling the stress of transportation.
The BLM will remove wild horses, regardless of their age, when they fall into one of the following categories or when one of the following conditions is met:
- Nuisance animals, including wild horses and burros that gather near busy roadways (presenting a safety hazard) or drift onto private property
- Animals found outside of an HMA
- The need to remove all gathered animals in an HMA to meet population goals
- Animals that fall outside of any selective management prescriptions in a land-use or activity plan. For example, some plans might identify certain unique characteristics (examples: Spanish characteristics, Bashkir Curly, or other traits), sex ratio adjustments, non-reproducing components of a herd, or age groupings for which a particular HMA is to be selectively managed
- Total removals required by law or land-use plan decisions
- Court-ordered gathers
- Emergency gathers