Top 5 things to know about the Wild Horse and Burro Program

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act directs the Bureau of Land Management (and U.S. Forest Service) to manage and protect wild horses and burros on public lands where they existed at the time the Act was passed. The Act also directs that wild horses and burros are to be managed at appropriate levels to support a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship on public lands.  

To achieve the vision of the 1971 Act, the BLM created the Wild Horse and Burro Program with the goal of managing healthy wild horses and burros on healthy public lands. However, achieving this goal is not as straight-forward or simple as it seems. To help make it easier to understand, here are the top 5 things to know the Wild Horse and Burro Program (and check out the infographic at the bottom of this post!): 

1. Wild horses and burros are an integral part of the natural system of the public lands. 

The 1971 Act and subsequent legislation places wild horses and burros among the many authorized uses of America’s system of public lands. Similar to other uses of public lands like wildlife habitat, livestock grazing and recreation, wild horse and burro populations are managed so as to maintain a healthy balance and sustainable use of public lands.  

Pronghorn grazing alongside wild burros
Wild burros graze alongside pronghorn on BLM-managed public lands.

2. Wild horses have adapted well to the American West.  

With few predators capable of naturally controlling herd size, a herd of wild horses typically doubles in size every four years if not managed (with a similar, slightly slower rate for burros). This rapid growth rate can quickly lead to overpopulation in a desert ecosystem. Find the latest data on wild horse and burro populations roaming BLM-managed public lands.  

Wild horses running.
Wild horses in the Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area of Wyoming.

3. Overpopulated herds threaten land and herd health.  

When a herd is overpopulated, it raises the risk of starvation and thirst for wild horses, wild burros and other wildlife. Overgrazing by horses leads to invasive and less nutritious weeds like cheatgrass, and fewer native plants. Horses and burros are also put at risk of injury and death on highways and private property as they wander larger areas in search of food and water.  

Several wild horses trying to drink from a puddle.
A group of wild horses attempt to drink enough water in the Pine Nut Mountains Herd Management Area in Nevada.

4. BLM has a plan.  

The BLM uses multiple humane, non-lethal tools to maintain balance and support healthy herds of wild horses and burros on healthy public lands. Specialized fertility control technology can help safely slow growth in some herds through contraception while keeping animals on the range. When herds become overpopulated, excess animals are carefully gathered, relocated and prepared for the next step of their journey.  

Wild horses in a chute.
A gathered wild horse is sorted at temporary holding in Nevada.

5. You can adopt a wild horse or burro.  

The BLM cares for and makes excess wild horses and burros available for adoption by qualified individuals or organizations. Adopted wild horses and burros can be trained and have gone on to excel in a variety of disciplines, from becoming award-winning show horses to being recognized as prized work horses and trail-riding buddies. Unadopted wild horses are transported to large off-range pastures where they can live the rest of their lives grazing in open space. 

By placing animals into private care, the BLM can continue to operate its unique management strategy for wild horses and burros that uses nonlethal tools to control population growth and promote good habitat health for all.  

Infographic explaining the Wild Horse and Burro Program

Download the Wild Horse and Burro Program Infographic (PDF).  

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