Common Questions from the Public
This Wild Horse and Burro Program receives many questions on a day-to-day basis from members of the public and stakeholders who are engaged in the management of wild horses and burros on public lands. Below are answers to common questions based on e-mails and phone calls that the BLM receives at its National Wild Horse and Burro Information Center.
Additional information can be found on the Myths and Facts page.
- Does BLM use helicopters to gather wild horses during foaling season?
The BLM and its contractors strive to conduct every helicopter-assisted gather as carefully as possible, especially when foals are present. Peak foaling season of wild horses on public lands occurs in late April and early May. The great majority of foaling happens March through June. As a precaution, unless there is an approved emergency situation, the BLM does not use helicopters to gather wild horses from March through June.
Though foals typically grow rapidly and within days are capable of maintaining speed with their mother, the BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program includes provisions to protect the welfare of foals that are part of gather operations. For example, the rate of movement and herding distance the pilot uses are based on the weakest or smallest animal in the group (i.e., foals or pregnant mares). Other provisions include re-uniting dependent foals that become separated from their mare/jenny and ensuring foals are protected from larger stallions and/or jacks while in a holding corral or during transport. Veterinarians are present on-site at helicopter gathers to help BLM assess and monitor the health and well-being of the wild horses.
- Does BLM gather wild horses and burros in inhumane temperature conditions?
Temperature and other factors are closely monitored and reviewed throughout the day to ensure animal safety during gather operations. If temperatures exceed or fall below what is healthy and safe for the animals, the BLM will pause gather operations. For wild horse gathers, operations are paused before temperatures rise above 95 degrees F or fall below 10 degrees F unless expressly authorized by BLM. For wild burros, operations are paused if temperatures exceed 100 degrees or fall below 10 degrees unless authorization is granted. In some instances, based on environmental and animal conditions, the BLM may adjust the threshold for when gather operations are paused to protect animal welfare.
Veterinarians are present on-site at helicopter gathers to help BLM assess and monitor the health and well-being of the wild horses.
- Why do BLM’s annual population estimates suggest growth rates for some herds that seem “biologically impossible”?
The BLM releases annual population estimates for each herd management area and herd area where federally protected wild horses or burros roam. These estimates are calculated using scientifically accepted methods for estimating wildlife populations. Following standard operating procedures that the USGS published in 2020, the BLM typically uses aerial surveys to estimate local herd sizes about every three to four years, and uses expected growth rates for that local herd to project population size forward in time until the next aerial survey. But as with aerial surveys for almost any wild animals, estimated herd sizes from aerial surveys for wild horses and burros can be slightly low or slightly high. Survey accuracy can be impacted by such things as weather, species (burros are often harder to find than horses), vegetation cover, snow cover, and band size.
Exponential growth can make differences between the estimated herd size and the true herd size grow over time. Most wild horse and burro herds grow between 15 and 25 percent annually, unless action is taken by BLM through gathers or fertility control. Comparing BLM’s estimated herd size values over several years, it might appear that population numbers sometimes jump or drop beyond what is biologically possible. One reason this can happen is because some of BLM’s annual estimates are based on calculations using data obtained from aerial surveys conducted in previous years. This is because the BLM cannot conduct aerial surveys over each of the 177 herd management areas every year. When this is done, statistical uncertainties and random errors in the initial counts can get magnified over time for the years without aerial surveys, until these statistical errors can be corrected after another aerial survey is done. When that second survey is done a few years later is usually when a surprising jump in the population estimate occurs.
For example, suppose that 100 horses actually live in year 1 in a herd management area where the annual population growth rate is 20% per year, on average. But suppose that the aerial survey in year 1 led to an inaccurate herd size estimate that was 25% low, of just 75 animals. That would be unusually low, but it could happen – one recent study found that burro herd size estimates from aerial surveys can routinely be 25% lower than the actual burro herd size. Three years later, in year 4, the BLM would expect that the population size should be (75 x 1.23), which is 130 – but the actual population by then would be (100 x 1.23), which is 173. By year 5, the true population size would be another 20% higher than 173, which is 207. Now suppose that in year 5, there is another aerial survey, and this time the survey-based estimate is accurate, at 207 horses. The BLM would have reported a herd size of 130 in year 4, but 207 in year 5. A comparison of BLM’s published herd size estimates from year 4 to year 5 would imply a 59% growth rate, which is biologically impossible in a herd with 50% female horses!
It’s also important to remember that horses and burros don’t necessarily recognize poorly fenced boundaries between adjacent management areas, and populations can increase or decrease from year to year just from animal movements. Many herd management areas share borders where horses can move back and forth, which might give the impression of a biologically impossible fertility rate depending on where the horses were when two surveys were conducted several years apart.
- Using wild horses to reduce wildfire risk in Wilderness Areas?
The BLM does not have the legal authority to place wild horses in Wilderness Areas. Section 1339 of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is clear about prohibiting the BLM from placing wild horses on areas of public lands where they were not found when the Act was passed in 1971.
Using wild horses to reduce fuels could also cause ecological problems. If targeted in the right season, high numbers of any grazer can reduce annual invasive grasses, like cheatgrass, that feed wildfires. However, intense grazing year-round by an unmanaged horse population can also reduce native plant and animal diversity and disturb soils in a way that actually favors annual invasive grasses like cheatgrass. This could even increase fire frequency and spread.
Finally, starting a new fertile population of horses, without any fertility control, would lead to uncontrolled herd growth in Wilderness Areas. Predation doesn’t typically limit herd growth on BLM’s herd management areas, or on other western lands where there have been credible ecological studies. Wild horse herds can double in size every 4-5 years if not managed.
- Supplemental feeding or water?
Question: Why doesn't the BLM provide supplemental feed to wild horses and burros when resources are scarce, rather than gathering and removing them?
Answer: BLM is committed to managing healthy wild horse and burro herds in an ecologically sustainable way. This involves maintaining herd populations that are in balance with the land, including through periodic removals and humane population growth suppression (e.g. fertility control). Providing supplemental feed to wild horses and burros on the range where herd sizes exceed the carrying capacity of the land – due to scarcity of forage or other limiting factors – can actually be counterproductive. By supporting a population that’s already too large for available natural resources, the result would be even more severe overgrazing and longer lasting impacts to the land. Supplemental feeding herds can also cause localized resource impacts by compacting soil, increasing erosion and disrupting water sources for wildlife. The influence that supplemental feeding can have on the animals’ wild free-roaming behavior is also a concern, as they can easily become habituated to human interventions. For these reasons, supplemental feeding is not among the principal management tools BLM uses to achieve its goal of healthy herds on healthy rangelands.
In emergency situations, the BLM may haul water temporarily to animals in need until further action can take place. Hauling water is not an ideal long-term solution because it can prevent migration of animals to other natural water sources, and can cause animals to become habituated to a single area, which causes further deterioration. The BLM’s long-term goal is to use a combination of removals and fertility treatments to manage self-sustaining populations of healthy wild horses and burros in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat.
- Control for Overpopulation?
Question: It has been said that BLM is not gathering herds of wild horses often enough, leading to overpopulation on the range? Does the agency believe it's conducting gathers at a reasonable rate to control for overpopulation?
Answer: The BLM takes action where it can to reduce overpopulation and put the Wild Horse and Burro Program on track toward having healthy herds on healthy rangelands, while also using taxpayer resources responsibly. The BLM aims to gather wild horses and burros from areas on public lands where the highest concerns exist when it comes to protecting animal health, saving critical wildlife habitat and protecting public safety by removing animals from highways and private property.
The BLM also launched new initiatives to find more private homes for the wild horses and burros removed from public lands, including offering financial incentives to adopt animals and providing a better way to adopt online. The BLM continues to invest in research for better fertility control, supporting public-private partnerships for training and adopting out more animals and moving more animals to cost-effective off-range pastures for long-term care. Through all these actions, the BLM continues to work with Congress, our partners and the public to reduce overpopulation across the West.
- Gathers vs. Fertility Control?
Question: Some claim that helicopter gathers are inhumane and fertility control methods are a better way to control overpopulation on the range. Does the BLM use PZP and other fertility drugs on horses on the range?
Answer: The claim that gathers are inhumane is patently false. The BLM's helicopter-assisted gathers are conducted humanely, as most recently affirmed by a peer-reviewed scientific review of BLM gathers, as reported in The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. BLM gathers have proven to be more humane, effective, and efficient than other types of gather methods when large numbers of animals need to be removed over wide areas or rugged terrain, and they lead to lower rates of injury and mortality than comparable capture operations for native big game species.
The BLM has supported the development of fertility control for wild horses for several decades, and the BLM continues to support the use of fertility control methods in herds where it can be effective in slowing or stabilizing growth. Typically, the fertility control vaccines currently available are most effective at controlling growth rates in herds that are already at or near target population size and where animals can be located, approached and darted. However, because many herds are found in remote and rugged areas of public lands, sometimes roaming over hundreds of thousands of acres with current herd sizes that are far over the desired levels, remote darting in most HMAs is not practical and additional gathers would be needed to administer fertility control methods.
The BLM continues to seek ways to use fertility control more broadly and more effectively, and we continue to support research to develop new and longer-lasting fertility control vaccines. Available fertility-control treatments like Porcine Zona Pellucida are only effective at preventing pregnancy in wild mares for 1-2 years. For areas where animals are not approachable, the biggest expense comes from the need for the BLM to gather twice as many animals as those treated (50 percent of the population are mares and only about 90 percent of those are of treatable age).
Capitalizing on the agency’s successful research and development efforts, the BLM has been increasing its use of Gonacon, a longer-term vaccine that can prevent pregnancy for 4-5 years in animals that receive two doses. The BLM has also recently started to use soft, flexible silicone intrauterine devices (IUDs) to limit fertility, as those have been shown to be safe and effective. As part of a sustained fertility control program, the BLM supports humane methods of sterilizing some wild horses and burros as a method of slowing population growth and reducing the need for gathers. Sterilizing some wild horses in herds where it’s infeasible to use short-lasting fertility control treatments is supported by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and American Veterinary Medical Association – two of the largest equine veterinarian associations in the world
- Adoption Incentive Program pitfalls?
Question: Does the Adoption Incentive Program encourage people to adopt wild horses or burros just to receive the $1,000 incentive payment then sell the animals to slaughter once they receive title?”
Answer: The BLM initiated the Adoption Incentive Program to encourage more adopters to give a wild horse or burro a good home. The up to $1,000 incentive is available for approved adopters and all untrained wild horses and burros, including animals at BLM facilities, off-site events and the Online Corral. As with all wild horse and burro adoptions since the program began decades ago, adopted animals can become the property of adopters after a year, through a process in which title to the animal is passed to the adopter. BLM does not have the means or legal authority to track or direct the disposition of wild horses or burros once they pass into private ownership (i.e. once an animal is sold by BLM or an adopter receives title).
If/when BLM becomes aware of freeze marked animals arriving at commercial sale barns, the agency will conduct its due diligence to ensure the animals are in fact properly titled or sold. If they are not properly titled or sold, they remain subject to BLM’s jurisdiction under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The agency will move to repossess such animals, investigate the matter and take appropriate legal or administrative action. It is important to note that BLM does not and cannot assume that any or every titled or sold wild horse or burro that arrives at a sale barn is destined for slaughter. Indeed, many such animals are acquired from sale barns by equine welfare organizations or by private individuals. BLM strongly encourages anyone who has the means and desire to adopt or purchase a wild horse or burro to avail themselves of the many opportunities at any of BLM’s facilities, events or Online Corral.
- Too many animals adopted?
Question: Does the Adoption Incentive Program encourage groups of people, like families, to adopt more animals than they otherwise would be allowed to?
Answer: The requirements for adopting under the Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) are identical to those for traditional (non-AIP) adoptions. Individuals are limited to holding no more than four untitled animals at any single location; also, an individual may receive title to no more than four animals in a single year. It is permissible for multiple individuals – including members of the same family – to adopt and care for up to four animals each at the same location (such as a boarding facility), so long as all other requirements for animal care at that location are met (e.g. minimum square footage). Unless BLM has evidence that an individual or group of individuals has conspired to evade these requirements (i.e. by falsifying one or more adoption applications), there is no actionable violation of the regulations. If any such violation does occur, BLM can and will take appropriate action, which can include repossessing animals and/or issuing a decision letter barring the individual(s) from participating in the adoption program in the future. More serious actions can be taken – including referral for criminal prosecution – if circumstances warrant.
- Qualified Adopters?
Question: How does the BLM determine if an adopter is on the “up and up” and the adopted animal is not destined for a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico?
Answer: The BLM screens potential adopters alongside a list of individuals that have been determined to be ineligible. All animals adopted from BLM are subject to inspection by BLM specialists prior to being titled. This is to ensure that the adopter is complying with all requirements of their Private Maintenance and Care Agreement (PMACA) relating to animal welfare/wellbeing. Where deficiencies are found, BLM works with the adopter to correct them. If compliance is not or cannot be attained, the adopter will either voluntarily relinquish the animal back to BLM or BLM will repossess the animal. In the latter case, if a determination is made that an adopter violated any of the Prohibited Acts outlined in their PMACA, the agency may issue a Decision Letter that would render them ineligible to participate in the adoption program in the future. Certain violations – such as selling/transferring animals prior to receiving title – may also be referred to BLM Law Enforcement for investigation and, from there, potentially to the appropriate U.S. Attorney who may exercise discretion whether or not to prosecute.
- National Wild Horse and Advisory Board recommendation?
Question: What is the BLM's response to the recommendation made by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board on September 9, 2016, to sell without limitation or humanely euthanize excess horses and burros in BLM's off-range corrals and pastures that are deemed "unadoptable"?
Answer: The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board is an independent panel comprised of members of the public that make recommendations to the Bureau of Land Management regarding its management of wild horses and burros. The BLM is committed to having healthy horses on healthy rangelands. We will continue to care for and seek good homes for animals that have been removed from the range. The agency continues to seek new and better tools for managing the nation's quickly expanding population of wild horses. There are nearly 95,000 wild horses and burros on public lands in the West -- three times the recommended level -- and nearly 45,000 additional horses and burros that have been removed from the range and are available for adoption. We encourage those who might be interested in adopting one of these incredible animals to call 1-866-4MUSTANGS.
- Shade Structures at Palomino Valley?
Question: As of July 1, 2016, what is the current status on shade at Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center (PVC) outside of Reno, Nevada?
Answer: 4/5/17 Update:
The first section of new windbreaks have been installed at the Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center.
Eventually, new windbreaks will be installed in all 10 perimeter pens at the facility, and overhang roofs will be constructed off the top of each panel to provide additional shade for animals at the corral. These new shelter structures will provide additional comfort to animals at the facility as BLM works to find homes for them.
As part of the annual maintenance and repair efforts at the Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center (PVC), the BLM has upgraded two existing and installed four new shade structures in pens housing wild horses and burros. In addition, the BLM plans to purchase and install new structures to provide shade and shelter from the wind in four perimeter pens capable of holding up to 500 horses. Beyond these installations, the BLM is committed to working with its partners to pursue further renovations at the PVC.
- Animals moved to different facilities?
Question: Does the BLM ever move animals from a long-term pasture to another holding facility? If so, why?
Answer: Yes, BLM moves animals from long-term pastures to other facilities if the long-term pasture can no longer accommodate the animals.
Examples of when this would occur include:
- If a contractor sells the ranch and the new owner does not want to manage for wild horses.
- If a contractor has lands recovering from a natural disaster such as drought or flood and wants to remove grazing animals or decrease their numbers to aid in recovery.
- If, at the end of a contract period, market conditions change in the livestock sector such that the contractor identifies a more lucrative use for the land.
Depending on the capacity of the facility needing to relocate animals, the number of animals being relocated can range from a few hundred to a few thousand head.
The majority of animals that have not been adopted are held on long-term pastures. Long-term pastures provide a free-roaming environment for the animals and it costs less for the taxpayer to house animals on long-term pastures than at short-term holding facilities. With long-term and short-term facilities nearly filled to capacity, the BLM is currently seeking new off-range corral and pasture facilities.
- BLM's response to Inspector General Report?
Question: What is the BLM's reaction to an Inspector General report regarding horse sales to Tom Davis of Colorado?
Answer: The Bureau of Land Management is committed to improving the health and management of wild horses and burros on federal lands in the West. We take very seriously the findings of the July 7, 2015, Department of the Interior Inspector General Report involving Mr. Davis and the events that occurred in 2012.
In response to these events, the Bureau of Land Management immediately implemented a policy to ensure that horses were sold only to good homes, including limits of four horses over a six-month period to a single buyer. This policy has helped the Bureau of Land Management avoid situations similar to those involving Mr. Davis by ensuring that purchasers provide appropriate care and facilities for the animals.
- Confirm title status?
Question: I have acquired a BLM-titled wild horse or burro, but do not have any paperwork. I would like to confirm its title status and learn more about the animal. Where do I start?
Answer: Please contact the BLM's National WH&B Information Center at 866-468-7826 or e-mail your question to email@example.com. We will need the freeze mark information to confirm the title status and history of the animal.
- Transfer title?
Question: I have acquired a BLM-titled wild horse or burro. I would like to have the title transferred into my name. What do I do?
Answer: The BLM cannot reissue the title to a new owner; however, the BLM can send you an official letter providing the title date and history of the animal. Please contact the BLM's National WH&B Information Center at 866-468-7826 or e-mail your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center can connect you with the BLM office of jurisdiction that will send you the official letter.
- Strangles at BLM facilities?
Streptococcus equi, also commonly known as strangles, is an upper respiratory tract bacterial infection in horses and burros. Although not usually fatal, strangles is highly contagious to other horses. While it is extremely rare for these bacteria to affect people, you might think of it like a bad case of strep throat in humans. It typically causes fever, coughing and a thick white or yellow nasal discharge. The lymph nodes under the jaw often become enlarged and abscess. It often appears in younger horses, and it is not uncommon to have an outbreak among horses being cared for in an off-range corral. If symptoms appear, the BLM quarantines affected and exposed horses working with the attending veterinarian(s) as well as state and Federal animal health officials. Like the common cold, the illness usually runs its course with supportive care, and veterinarians also examine and treat animals as needed. As strangles is very contagious, the BLM takes every precaution to prevent its spread by closing the affected facilities to adoptions and public visitors until it has run its course and the animals have been examined by a veterinarian and found to be free of clinical signs.
While all wild horses and burros removed from the range are vaccinated against common equine ailments like equine influenza, rhinopneumonitis (herpes) and strangles, this does not guarantee that an animal will not become infected. However, vaccinations may slow down the spread of an outbreak and a vaccinated animal will likely have a milder case if exposed.