Wild Horse and Burro Gather Planning, Scheduling, and Approval

IM 2020-012
Instruction Memorandum


January 8, 2020

In Reply Refer To:
4710/4720 (260) P

Instruction Memorandum No. 2020-012
Expires: 09/30/2022

To:                   All Field Office Officials (except Alaska and Eastern States)
                        Attn:  State and Center Directors

From:               Assistant Director, Resources and Planning

Subject:           Wild Horse and Burro Gather Planning, Scheduling, and Approval

Program Area:  Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Purpose:  This Instruction Memorandum (IM) establishes policy for planning, scheduling, and approving wild horse and burro (WHB) gathers.

Administrative or Mission Related:  Mission.

Policy/Action:  This guidance outlines management options that the authorized officer (AO) should consider when developing gather planning documents to achieve and maintain appropriate management levels (AML), particularly methods to reduce population growth rates on the range. It also describes the process to be taken by the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program (WO-260) to draft and receive Deputy Director of Operations (DD-Ops, WO-100) concurrence on the annual National Gather Schedule as well as how State Offices receive DD-Ops concurrence on proceeding with emergency, private land, and public health and safety gathers that may be necessary.

  1. Herd Management Area and Gather Planning

Considerations for Reducing Population Growth Rates. During herd management area planning or gather planning for a gather in a herd management area (HMA), the AO should consider multiple management actions to reduce population growth rates and extend the time between gathers. Prior to returning gathered animals to the range, the AO should give all due consideration to appropriate population growth control measures. These management actions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Temporary fertility control vaccines – administering approved fertility control vaccines, such as GonaCon, ZonaStat-H (native PZP), and PZP-22, to mares prior to release back to the range.
  2. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) – applying IUDs in suitable mares and then returning them to the range. IUDs can be used in mares that are not pregnant.
  3. Non-reproducing animals – sterilizing animals (male and/or female) and returning them to the range, generally with the goal of reducing the breeding female component of the herd by at least ten percent. To manage for partially or wholly non-reproducing herds, animals would be sterilized (spayed or neutered) before being released to the range. Gather planning documents should specify that if sterile burro-horse hybrids (mules and hinnies) are gathered, then they should be prioritized for return to the range.
  4. Sex ratio adjustment – changing the sex composition of a herd, generally by releasing additional males back to the range after a gather. The goal with this management technique is for mares to represent no more than approximately 30-40 percent of the breeding animals within a herd, reducing the population growth rate.

Where appropriate, a combination of the above methods can be used to further reduce population growth rates.

  1. Gather Planning Documents. When preparing gather planning documents for a gather in an HMA, the AO should evaluate multiple management options to achieve and maintain the AML. Each management option should generally be evaluated for implementation by the BLM over a multiyear period. These management options include the following:
    1. Utilizing all capture methods to implement the gather, which would include both helicopter and bait/water trap.
    2. Removing excess animals and implementing population growth suppression management actions per section 1(a) above.
    3. Removing excess animals without implementing population growth suppression management actions.
    4. Gathering and implementing population growth suppression management actions only.
    5. Releasing or relocating select animals within HMAs.
    6. Any other action integral to achieving and maintaining the AML.


  1. Gather Scheduling and Gather Concurrence Process
    1. National Gather Schedule. Every June, WO-260 will ask all WHB State Office Leads to provide a prioritized list of gathers requested for the upcoming fiscal year with rationale for each. The On-Range Branch Chief will develop a tentative National Gather Schedule based on state and national priorities and anticipated funding levels; this schedule may change if requested funding levels are not obtained.  The Division Chief and AD will brief the DD-Ops for concurrence on the proposed schedule. Changes to the approved gather schedule involving increased removal numbers for approved gathers, new gather requests, or substituting gathers may require additional approvals by WO-260 and/or DD-Ops.
    2. Emergency and Nuisance gathers.  Emergencies generally are unexpected events that threaten the health or welfare of a wild horse and burro population or its habitat and require immediate action, such as an unanticipated lack of water or forage, fire, or outbreak of disease.  Nuisance and public safety gathers address situations where wild horses and burros stray onto private property or cross roadways and interfere with traffic or otherwise threaten public health or safety.

Emergency and nuisance gathers are generally not included in the initial development of the annual National Gather Schedule, but will be considered using the following process:

  1. The WHB State Lead, with concurrence from the State Director, will submit a written emergency or nuisance gather request to the On-Range Branch Chief. All requests should clearly articulate the need for the immediate action and should include gather location, estimated number of animals slated for removal, proposed gather method, and whether the actions are covered by an implementation decision.  For a nuisance gather, the proposal should, where applicable, include the written request by the private landowner for the removal of the animals and giving the BLM permission to access its private property to remove the animals.
  2. The On-Range Branch Chief will coordinate with the State Lead for all necessary information and forward the request to the Division Chief. 
  3. WO concurrence to proceed with emergency and nuisance gathers will be provided on the proposed number of animals to be removed, as follows:
    1. Removal of 25 or fewer animals – Division Chief (WO-260)
    2. Removal of up to 100 animals, provided it does not change the National Gather Schedule or budget – Assistant Director (AD-200).
    3. Removal of more than 100 animals that may change the National Gather Schedule or budget will require concurrence from the DD-Ops (WO-100).
  4. The On-Range Branch Chief will identify the holding facility to send animals after removal.

Timeframe:  This IM is effective immediately.

Budget Impact:  Implementation of this policy should save money in the future by streamlining the gather planning and approval process to maximize flexibility and efficiency.

Background:  The National Wild Horse and Burro Program drafts the National Gather Schedule annually with input from the states on their priorities, but it has not always been clear what the process is or how requests are approved. This policy clearly outlines the steps for gather requests to be finalized and, with flexibility from the states included during the gather planning stages, will create a more efficient and consistent program.

Manual/ Handbook Sections Affected:  This IM supersedes IM 2010-135, Gather Policy, Selective Removal Criteria, and Management Considerations for Reducing Population Growth Rates, and amends Chapter 4 of the 4700-1, Wild Horse and Burro Management Handbook and Manuals 4710 and 4720.  

Coordination:  This IM was coordinated among WO-100, WO-200, WO-260, and WHB State Leads.

Contact:  Please direct questions regarding this IM to the On-Range Branch Chief, Wild Horse and Burro Program, at 775-861-6611.


Signed by:                                                                   Authenticated by:
June Shoemaker                                                          Robert M. Williams
Acting, Assistant Director                                          Division of Regulatory Affairs,WO-630
Resource and Planning