Wild horses and burros are managed by different jurisdictions within the United States with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) responsible for the vast majority. In Australia wild horses are called “Brumbies.” And believe it or not we have wild horses on a few of the Caribbean Islands!
This section focuses on wild horses and burros in the United States.
Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDoA)
When the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act was passed not all animals fell under that jurisdiction. Some of them reside on the Virginia Range. The Virginia Range horses were the ones that advocate Velma Johnston (later known as “Wild Horse Annie”) saw on coming home from work on a truck. The truck had blood dripping from it and she followed it to find the horses were going for fertilizer. This experience set her on a path of advocacy that continued until her death and eventually led to the passage of the Act. However the horses of the Virginia Range were not covered by the protections afforded in the new law.
The Virginia Range herd area consists of an area approximately 283,769± acres bounded on the west by Hwy. 395; on the East by Alternate Highway 95; on the north by the Truckee River and the south by the Carson River. Within this area the majority of land is privately owned (over 160,000± acres).
NDoA has no infrastructure and animals are offered for sale and then sent to auction, often meeting the exact fate Velma fought to end.
PDF from NDoA on the Virginia Range: http://agri.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/agrinvgov/Content/Resources/Fact_Sheets/VRE-FactSheet.pdf
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Horses and burros that live in the system of National Refuges in America have no consistent protocol for management program wide. Even though these horses occupied federal land when the 1971 Act was passed that asserted that each Refuge was guided by a distinct mission plan, hence obligated to that prior plan and not obligated to the Act.
Probably the most well-known horses within the National Refuge system live on Assateague Island. The ponies were made famous by Marguerite Henry with the book Misty of Chincoteague. A fence line actually creates two herds. The herd on the Maryland side managed by Forest Service and the herd on the Virginia side managed by a volunteer fire department that actually purchased the herd and gained a special permit from Fish and Wildlife to continue to graze 150 animals on Refuge land. The annual drive and adoption event has become a regular tourist attraction. Link to Chamber of Commerce HERE
Another coastal area on the East coast where horses roam is the Currituck National Refuge. On the outer banks north of Corolla to the Virginia state line is an area designated by the Currituck County as a wild horse sanctuary. This area is the home of the Corolla wild horses. There is currently legislation to protect the Corrolla horses that passed in the House but appears that it will die in committee in the Senate, as happens to so many bills to protect equines. HERE
In the West the wild horses on Fish an Wildlife Land, called “invasive” in this instance,” exist at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, northern NV/southern OR. The plan is to eliminate the horses living in the Refuge. Sheldon has some of the most horrific stories associated with wild horses living on public land including foals hog-tied and left to die in the desert during government roundups, experimental procedures including hysterectomies performed through the rectum and Sheldon horses seem to end up slaughter bound by the truckload roundup after roundup. HERE
National Park Service (NPS)
As with Fish and Wildlife Service the National Parks Service, and the few areas they have wild horse or burro populations to manage, were able to skirt the protections afforded by the 1971 Act.
The National Parks Service (NPS) manages a few smaller populations on the East Coast. NPS manages the above mentioned Maryland side of Assateague Island HERE and the wild horses of the Shackleford Banks HERE.
The National Park Service also manages a very small herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The agencies webpage on the horses all but shouts that the horses are kept there begrudgingly as a “token only” for the public that has historically gone there. These animals are periodically rounded up and taken to auction where the vast majority of wild horses land at slaughter HERE
About 100-150 wild horses living in the Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. Wild horses have lived in Mesa Verde National Park for many years and are part of the park’s natural landscape and history. The park is looking to remove horses. We are awaiting their response to public comment.
A Herd Without A Jurisdiction
As boundary lines were drawn and plans made to manage populations a herd was left without Forest Service or BLM claiming responsibility even though the animals were on the land at the passage of the 1971 Act. That group of horses live near the Salt River in Arizona.
An article in the AZ Central states, “Horses roaming along the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest have been dazzling enthusiasts and confounding officials for years.”
United States Forest Service (USFS)
“The Forest Service administers 37 wild horse or burro territories located in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah. The Forest Service coordinates with the Bureau of Land Management in the management of adjacent territories as well as the removal of wild horses and burros in excess of the territory capacity.” HERE
However the populations on USFS land are not large. (note under USFS management the areas are called “territories,” a wild horse territory is a WHT and a wild burro territory is a WBT.
The Big Bear WBT is managed for a population of 60 burros.
The Big Creek Territory is 13-25 horses.
Jicarilla in New Mexico is between 50 and 105 animals.
Devils Garden in California is one of the larger WHT’s managed by USFS at “appropriate management level” of 305 horses.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is the agency that manages more wild horses than all other jurisdictions combined. BLM manages horses and burros in conjunction with Forest Service and often leads removals on those lands as well. BLM homepage HERE
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of land. It is a land management agency leasing America’s public land for livestock grazing, energy production, mineral extraction and recreation. BLM manages wild horse and burro population on only 26.9 million acres of the 245 million available to other uses.
The BLM Wild Horse and Burro program has become a very real controversy in modern day. From inhumane conduct, lack of genetic viability left in the wild to the upside down management practices that have more wild horses in paid government warehousing than exist in the wild the program is in serious trouble.
If BLM fails in it’s mandate to protect wild horses as an integral part of the public lands America will effectively lose forever our symbol of the American West.