Updated September 29, 2009
Bureau of Land Management
Public Affairs Office, Washington, D.C.
Contact: Tom Gorey (202-452-5137)
 

Factsheet on Challenges Facing the BLM
in its Management of Wild Horses and Burros

The BLM’s goal is to manage healthy herds of wild horses and burros on healthy Western rangelands.  To do that, we must confront a number of tough challenges.

Wild horses and burros, of which nearly 37,000 freely roam BLM-managed lands, 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 Western public rangelands each year to ensure that herd sizes are consistent with the land’s capacity to support them.

Off the range, there are nearly 32,000 removed (or "excess") wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term (corral) and long-term (pasture) holding facilities.  Currently, animals placed in long-term holding live out the rest of their lives there, which can be from 10 to 25 years depending on the age at which they enter long-term holding.

Each year the BLM attempts to place as many of the removed animals as possible into private care through public adoptions or sales, but adoptions have been declining in recent years because of higher fuel and feed costs.  (Adoptions fell from 5,701 in Fiscal Year 2005 to 3,706 in FY 2008.)  The BLM’s direct sales program, which primarily affects older animals, has met with limited success as implemented.

The BLM would like to bring the number of animals placed through adoption or sold each year into balance with the number that must be removed annually from the range.  As a result, fewer animals will need to be maintained in holding facilities.

It is essential to keep the BLM’s wild horse and burro program in balance.  The cost of keeping animals removed from Western rangelands in holding facilities is spiraling out of control and preventing the agency from successfully managing other parts of the program, such as gathers and adoptions.

In Fiscal Year 2007, the BLM spent $38.8 million on its wild horse and burro program; the cost for holding wild horses and burros in short- and long-term facilities was $21.9 million, meaning holding costs accounted for more than half of what the BLM spent in FY 2007 on its total wild horse and burro program.

In Fiscal Year 2008, holding costs exceeded $27 million, accounting for three-fourths of the FY 2008 enacted funding level of $36.2 million for the BLM's total wild horse and burro program.  This level of funding is not sufficient to support necessary removals from the range while maintaining lifetime holding for older unadopted animals.  To continue its current removal, holding, and restrictive sales practices, the BLM would need approximately $85 million in 2012.

The BLM faces difficult choices in the West’s wild horse and burro program.  It is clear that the Bureau cannot continue its current removal and holding practices; neither can the BLM allow horses to multiply unchecked on the range without causing an environmental disaster.  The BLM is looking at all options at this point to manage through the situation.  We have not made any decisions about which option(s) to pursue, but we are in discussions with Congress and humane groups to find an appropriate legal solution. 

The BLM is authorized under a December 2004 amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to sell “without limitation” wild horses and burros that are either over 10 years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times.  The BLM has thus far focused on sales only to those buyers whose intention is to provide long-term care.  As amended in 1978, the 1971 wild horse law also authorizes the BLM to humanely put down excess wild horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist.

If the BLM were to try to hold down budget costs by not removing excess horses from the range, the result would be an ecological disaster for Western public rangelands: overpopulation of herds, overgrazing of forage, eventual malnutrition and starvation of horses and burros, damage to native vegetation and riparian areas, damage to wildlife habitat, increased soil erosion, and lower water quality.

Regarding the difficulty of applying fertility control over a wide area, please click here.

General Background (also see Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts)

The Bureau of Land Management protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (as amended in 1976, 1978, 1996, and 2004) to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands.  The BLM manages wild horses and burros as part of its multiple-use mission under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

One of BLM’s key challenges in its wild horse and burro program is to reach the appropriate management level of approximately 26,600.  That is the number of free-roaming horses and burros that the Bureau has determined can thrive on BLM-managed lands in balance with other rangeland resources and uses.

As of February 28, 2009 (the latest date available for official data), there were nearly 37,000 wild horses and burros (about 33,100 horses and 3,800 burros) roaming on BLM-managed lands, a population that exceeds the appropriate management level by some 10,350 animals.  Off the range, there are nearly 32,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term (corral) and long-term (pasture) holding facilities.

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 ensure that herd sizes are consistent with the land’s capacity to support them.  From Fiscal Year 2001 to FY 2008, the BLM removed more than 79,000 wild horses and burros from public rangelands while placing more than 47,000 into private care through adoption.  (In FY 2008, the BLM removed 5,275 animals from the range and adopted out 3,706.)  Since 1971, the BLM has adopted out more than 220,000 horses and burros, a process in which an individual may receive the title of ownership for up to four animals in a year after demonstrating one year of humane care.

Also, the BLM – under a December 2004 amendment to the 1971 wild horse and burro law – has been selling those wild horses and burros 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 nearly 3,700 horses and burros; in these transactions, unlike adoptions, the title of ownership passes immediately from the Federal government to the buyer.  The BLM has focused on sales only to those buyers whose intention is to provide long-term care. 

Horses and burros that are unadopted or unsold are kept in short- or long-term holding facilities.  In Fiscal Year 2008, the cost of holding and caring for these animals exceeded $27 million -- accounting for three-fourths of the FY 2008 enacted funding level of $36.2 million for the total wild horse and burro program.  If current removal, holding, and restrictive sales practices are to be continued, funding for the total wild horse and burro program would need to rise to approximately $85 million by FY 2012. 

– BLM –