Wild Horse and Burro Subject Guide - Policy and Legal Resources

A group of five wild horses running through the snow with leave-less trees in the background, Wyoming.

The BLM protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros on public lands under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands. Below are resources selected by BLM Librarians to help inform policy and legal decisions.
 

Legislation

Wild Horse Protection Act of 1959, also known as the "Wild Horse Annie Act” (Public Law 86-234)

This was the first federal legislation to protect wild horses and burros. Prohibited the use of a motor vehicle to hunt, for the purpose of capturing or killing, any wild horse, mare, colt, or burro running at large on public lands. Also prohibited the pollution of watering holes on public lands for the purposes of trapping, killing, wounding, or maiming any of these animals.

Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Public Law 92-195)

Protected wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death and stated that wild horses and burros were to be considered an integral part of the natural system of the public lands in the areas where they are found. Read the original text or the amended text, as compiled by BLM.

Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529 (1976)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that free-roaming horses and burros are wildlife and it rejected New Mexico's view of the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-579)

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was amended by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and later by the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (see below). Among its provisions, FLPMA established the BLM and allowed for the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to use or contract for the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles for the purpose of managing wild horses and burros on public lands.

Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-514)

The Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA) amended the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. It established a commitment to inventory and identify current public rangeland conditions and trends while managing, maintaining, and improving the condition of public rangeland. PRIA continued the policy of protecting wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death, while at the same time facilitating the removal and disposal of excess wild free-roaming horses and burros which pose a threat to themselves and their habitat and to other rangeland values. PRIA also stated that the United States shall receive fair market value for the use of the public lands and their resources unless otherwise provided for by law.

United States v. Johnson, 685 F.2d 337 (9th Cir. 1982)

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act was challenged in court for being unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. This decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, affirmed a conviction under the act and upheld the act.

Mountain States Legal Foundation v. Hodel,799 F.2d 1423 (1986)

Ranchers argued that wild horses grazing on private property constituted a taking and they should be compensated for it under the Fifth Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit stated that a wild animal was not an agent of the federal government and could not be found guilty of taking ranchers' leased grass or water. DOI users can access text of the decision via HeinOnline. A law school explanation of the decision in simple language is publicly available.

Animal Protection Institute v. Hodel, 671 F. Supp. 695 (1987)

The Animal Protection Institute and the Fund for Animals sued the Department of the Interior, arguing that BLM was turning a blind eye to the intent to slaughter adopted horses. The court ruled in favor of the Animal Protection Institute, with the condition that BLM would require individuals adopting wild horse and burros to sign an affidavit stating they have no intent to sell the animals for slaughter or for use as rodeo stock.

Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996

Authorized BLM and the USDA Forest Service to use helicopters and motor vehicles to round up and transport feral horses on public lands.

Fund for Animals v. Babbitt, Case No. CV-R-85-365-HDM (D. Nev. settlement approved, Oct. 14, 1997)

Requires prospective adopters to sign a private maintenance and care agreement, under penalty of perjury, that they are not adopting animals for slaughter or other commercial use.

Instruction Memoranda

Instruction Memoranda (IMs) are limited-scope policy documents issued by BLM for internal direction. The following list includes IMs issued by the BLM Washington Office (WO) from fiscal year 2010 to present.  To access select BLM policy documents please visit our Policy Resources page.

Wild Horse and Burro Gather Planning, Scheduling, and Approval

WO IM-2019-026
Guidance for Sale of Excess Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2019-025
Adoption Incentive Program for Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2019-004
Issuance of Wild Horse and Burro Gather Decisions

WO IM-2019-003 (Internal)
Online Corral Implementation (Internet Events)

WO IM-2018-071
Animal Selection Requirements for Wild Horse and Burro Adoption/Sale Events

WO IM-2018-066 
Guidance for the Sale of Excess Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2018-052
Transfer of Excess Wild Horses and Burros to Federal, State, and Local Government Agencies for Use as Work Animals

WO IM-2017-057
Requirements for Selection of Wild Horses and Burros for the Internet Events

WO IM-2016-078 - Obsolete
Shelter Requirements for Adopted Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2015-153 - Obsolete
Gelding of Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2015-152 - Obsolete 
Exception to Policy in BLM Handbook H-4700-1 and Manual 4720.41: “Helicopter Gather of Wild Horses and Burros between March 1 and June 30”

WO IM-2015-151 - Obsolete
Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program for Wild Horse and Burro Gathers

WO IM-2015-070 - Obsolete
Animal Health, Maintenance, Evaluation and Response

WO IM-2014-133 - Obsolete
Required Timelines and Naming Conventions for Entering Data into the Wild Horse and Burro Program System and Recording/Reporting Requirements for Other Data

WO IM-2014-132 - Obsolete
Guidance for the Sale of Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2013-094 - Obsolete
Resource Management During Drought

WO IM-2013-061 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Internal and External Communicating and Reporting

WO IM-2013-060 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Management by Incident Command System

WO IM-2013-059 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy

WO IM-2013-058 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gathers: Public and Media Management

WO IM-2013-032 - Obsolete
Direction for the Sale of Wild Horses and Burros – Interim Guidance

WO IM-2013-019 (Internal) - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Herd Area and Herd Management Area Data Standard. For internal use only; access is limited to users on the BLM network.

WO IM-2012-045 - Obsolete
New Program Measures and Elements

WO IM-2011-193 - Obsolete
FY 2012 “Director’s Challenge”: Expanding Volunteer Engagement in Monitoring and Sustaining the Health of BLM Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Areas

WO IM-2011-040 - Obsolete
Protocols for Media at Wild Horse and Burro Gathers

WO IM-2011-021 - Obsolete
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Partnership with the Mustang Heritage Foundation

WO IM-2010-183 - Obsolete
Helicopter Capture of Wild Horses and Burros

WO IM-2010-164 - Obsolete
Public Observation of Wild Horse and Burro Gathers

WO IM-2010-162 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gather Daily Reporting Policy, Internal Communications Protocols

WO IM-2010-135 - Obsolete
Gather Policy, Selective Removal Criteria, and Management Considerations for Reducing Population Growth Rates

WO IM-2010-130, Change 1 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gather Decisions

WO IM-2010-130 - Obsolete
Wild Horse and Burro Gather Decisions

WO IM-2010-057 - Obsolete
Wild Horse & Burro Population Inventory and Estimation

Library Services

The BLM Library, located at the National Operations Center in Denver, exists to serve BLM employees across the country. We also are able to assist members of the general public who seek BLM publications and information. We are the BLM's only full-service library with professional staff. 

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