Bait-trapping to keep wild horse and burro herds healthy

As part of its efforts to protect wild horse and burro populations on public lands, the BLM must manage the fast pace at which wild horse and burro herds grow – sometimes up to or even exceeding 20 percent per year! A herd of horses growing at that rate means it can double in size in just 4-5 years – you can imagine the pressure that would put on already-scarce resources like food and water. 

One of the ways the BLM manages this fast-paced herd growth is through bait-trap gathers. These types of gathers normally consist of setting up one or more pens on public lands and baiting horses or burros to enter the pen with food, water or some other treat, such as salt. As animals enter the pen, a gate is shut by personnel. Sometimes gates are controlled remotely with the help of a live cam. 

Horses in a trap
Wild horses in a trap that was used as part of an emergency gather in Nevada's Red Rock Herd Management Area.

After animals are captured, they are carefully loaded onto a trailer and taken to either a temporary holding facility, or a permanent BLM facility. Upon arrival, the animals are checked by a veterinarian, sorted into pens by age and sex, and prepared for adoption. 

Learn more about wild horse and burro gathers

Bait-trapping can be an effective gather method, but certain conditions are normally required for the operation to be a success. For example, horses are typically very cautious and will only enter a strange-looking trap if that is the only way they will be able to get food or water, so there needs to be a lack of food or water in their habitat to create that need. Bait trapping may be the right management option when the food and water resources are limited and meets the need for the gather objectives, including operational time. Due to the nature of bait trapping, that animals can enter traps by choice, bait trap operations may take extended periods of time. Sometimes herd growth can outpace the rate of removal through bait-trapping. 

The BLM also bait-traps wild horses and burros to apply fertility control vaccines and boosters. For herds that are more difficult to approach and dart from a distance, bait-trapping can offer an alternative way for treating and then releasing wild horses and burros, which helps reduce the need to remove animals from the herd. 

Learn about the BLM’s fertility control efforts for wild horses and burros

The BLM and its volunteers and contractors are required to adhere to safe handling standards during all wild horse and burro operations, including bait-trap gathers. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program formalizes standard operating procedures surrounding animal care and handling; establishes formal training programs in animal welfare for BLM personnel, partners and contractors; and implements internal and external assessments for all activities undertaken in the Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

Think you have what it takes to bait-trap wild horses or burros? The BLM is currently soliciting new contracts for bait-trap gather services. Potential contractors should read the solicitation to understand the BLM’s requirements and how to submit a proposal. The solicitation closes 10 a.m. MT on May 23.