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Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts

Contact: Tom Gorey, BLM Public Affairs (202-912-7420)

Updated as of June 8, 2011

Wild Horse and Burro Population

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that approximately 38,500 wild horses and burros (about 33,000 horses and 5,500 burros) are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states based on the latest data available, compiled as of February 28, 2011. 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 12,000 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The appropriate management level is approximately 26,600.

Off the range, there are more than 41,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term corrals and long-term pastures. (As of May 2011, there were approximately 11,850 in corrals and 29,150 in Midwestern pastures.) All wild horses and burros in holding, like those roaming the public rangelands, are protected by the BLM under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Wild Horse and Burro Budget

In the most recently completed fiscal year (2010), holding costs accounted for $36.9 million out of a total wild horse and burro budget of $63.9 million (plus an additional $2.1 million in 2009 "carryover" funding).

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 10,255 wild horses and burros (9,715 horses and 540 burros) from the range in Fiscal Year 2010. The Bureau placed 3,074 removed animals into private care through adoption in FY 2010 -- down from 5,701 in FY 2005. Since 1971, the BLM has adopted out more than 225,000 horses and burros. For more information about adoptions, please visit How to Adopt and the national adoption schedule.

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.  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."

Sale Authority

About 8,400 wild horses and burros immediately became eligible for sale under the December 2004 sale-authority law, which directs the BLM to sell "without limitation" 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 4,700 horses and burros. The BLM has not been selling any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to "killer 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.


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Logo for Wild Horse and Burro Program

Video Clip: Below is a three-minute video on the BLM's pasture holding facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma, with statistics updated through early 2009.


FY 2011 Wild Horse and Burro Herd Populations and Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) by State

State

Horses

Burros

Total

Total AML

AZ

434

2,761

3,195

1,676

CA

2,872

1,171

4,043

2,184

CO

984

0

984

812

ID

500

0

500

617

MT

165

0

165

120

NV

17,710

1,347

19,057

12,688

NM

63

0

63

83

OR

2,456

15

2,471

2,715

UT

2,497

189

2,686

1,956

WY

5,333

0

5,333

3,725

Total

33,014

5,483

38,497

26,576

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Link to current Report on Wild Horse and Burro Facilities


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Law Enforcement

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.

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"What Happened to the 20 Million Acres?"

Frequently Asked Question: In 1971, wild horses and burros were found roaming across 53.8 million acres of Herd Areas, of which 42.4 million acres were under the BLM's jurisdiction. Today the BLM manages wild horses and burros in subsets of these Herd Areas (known as Herd Management Areas) that comprise 33.7 million acres, of which 26.9 million acres are under BLM management. What happened to the 20.1 million acres on which these animals were originally found roaming?

Answer: No specific amount of acreage was “set aside” for the exclusive use of wild horses and burros under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.  The Act directed the BLM to determine the areas where horses and burros were found roaming, and then to manage the animals within the boundaries of those areas.  Of the 20.1 million acres no longer managed for wild horse and burro use:

  • 4.6 million acres comprised lands not managed by the BLM where the other landowners were unwilling to make their land available for wild horse and burro use.
  • Of the other 15.5 million acres of land under BLM management:
    • 47.6 percent comprised intermingled land ownerships (for example, "checkerboard" land ownerships created by railroad grants) or areas where the water was not controlled by the BLM, which made management infeasible;
    • 12.5 percent was transferred out of the BLM's administration to other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, as a result of Federal legislation;
    • 11.2 percent consisted of areas where no Federal animals were present (that is, the horses present were privately owned, domestic horses that were claimed during the claiming period provided by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act), or areas with too few animals remaining to allow for effective management;
    • 10.6 percent comprised areas where there were substantial conflicts with other resource values (for example, the presence of threatened and endangered species); 
    • 9.5 percent consisted of lands removed from wild horse and burro use for reasons including Federal court decisions, disease (equine infectious anemia), urban expansion, highway fencing (causing habitat fragmentation), Department of Defense-related land withdrawals, or exchanges transferring land from BLM ownership to other parties; and
    • 8.6 percent comprised areas where a critical habitat component (such as winter range) was missing or the habitat was unsuitable for wild horse and burro use.