Wild Horse Education

Wild Week (Things to Know, part 1)


Every day this week we will bring you articles that address the framework of advocacy for the wild horse and wild burro. First, some history. You need to know how we got here so that it can stop being enabled. The new budget and roundup schedule are expected to finalize next week. This week, let’s talk wild.

Wild Horse Education (WHE) is a nonprofit devoted to the protection and preservation of free-roaming horses and burros under the jurisdiction of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

The preface above might seem obvious. However, in a world run by social media it seems we have to state the obvious. Wild horses are a public lands issue, not a domestic animal issue. Public lands law and land use management planning can get complex, involve stacks of paperwork and research and often do not create content that fits in a 40-character Twitter post or Facebook meme.

Congress is set to fund another year of the 2020 plan (Path Forward). When you try to talk to lawmakers or media, the first thing they want to talk about is population control. Trying to have a conversation that addresses land use planning, habitat loss and fragmentation, has become a “bang your head on the wall” exercise in frustration.

It wasn’t always like that.


The fight for our wild ones is intense. From 2010-2015 legal precedents were being set to create policy changes and headway was made on transparency, abuse and land use planning was beginning to budge to begin long overdue changes in forage allocations, genetics and fixing boundary lines; “science-based” decision making was an actual spark that had the opportunity to grow. By 2013, we hit began to hit a time of the lowest removals on the range since the Act passed.

Under the pressure of the “Bunkerville/Mahleur” years finding “partners” that could quell the turmoil became the status quo in government agencies. Solving the problems became “finding ways to repackage the status quo.”

For wild horses and burros that meant “Ten Years to AML” and a fast track for big corporate to “scratch the back” of other big corporate. Path Forward began the slide backwards: the range was given away to industry in order to promote fertility control. Plain and simple… that is what happened. We were there. If you wanted on-range planning to come before anything else, you were kicked out the door… hard.

The animal organizations involved all have two things in common: they have a lot of money and cross-platform domestic animal issues. Wild horses and burros live in the public lands law books, not domestic law. Even the fight against abuse at roundups was a fight we had to take into court inside the framework of public lands law. Domestic animal abuse is very real and needs focus. But wild horses and burros should not be played as a political card for domestic animal bills or to place wild horses into a category of “livestock that needs thinning.”


If we are talking to Congress or media about sage grouse or pygmy rabbits they are all more than willing to discuss land use planning and loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation. When we talk about how barbed wire fencing impacts deer or pronghorn migration (seasonal movements to reach winter/summer grazing and water) everyone understands. When we talk about how “green energy” and extremism in livestock politics impacts desert tortoise, we are understood.

When we want to talk about how wild horses and burros are impacted by these same issues (the only species managed behind artificial boundary lines) there is a severe disconnect. Every single lawmaker or media rep just wants to toggle to the SAFE Act (stopping transport of horses to slaughter) and fertility control. It is like the wild place becomes and entirely different place when we are talking about wild horses and burros.

Again, the domestic bills are important (the sale to the kill auction of a wild horse happens after title transfer, when they become a domestic under law)… but it is not a wild horse and burro management bill.

It is up to the advocate to keep pushing if wild horses are ever going to gain their place as “integral to the system of the public lands” as the law passed over 50 years ago intended.

We need actual site-specific management planning, the Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP), to hit front and center. As we take this issue into the courts (we have 2 cases in federal court with various partners and 4 in the land use courts) the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the process of simply re-writing the handbooks to try to push the issue off the table and out of litigation. Yes, in the world of “wild horses” BLM will often just change the rules without any public process… because the public often misses the process and “big corporate” drags “wild into domestic” and the public never even knows what happened. It is one of the reasons why we have had 3 years of record breaking removals that led to overstocked holding facilities where there are now studies being done through Appropriations (spending) to kill them to make space for more and save money. The “Path Forward” is a fast track backwards.

The roundup is the space between 2 distinct programs: the on-range program and the off-range program. BLM spends less than 3% of the entire budget on-range. Less than 2% is spent on management planning. Field offices are so understaffed that it can be years, literally, before a Herd Management Area (HMA) has a site visit by the wild horse employee… and instead, any data is gained from interns or livestock.

Ground zero is range management. Roundups are the space between. Holding facilities are becoming a black-hole of information with zero access (that may help facilitate the final solution). After being titled (through adoption or sale) wild horses face the same danger of falling into the slaughter pipeline as domestic horses.

Media and Congress tend to focus on the roundup forward; the parts of the program that are the easiest to see and understand. An understanding of the roots, the on-range program, is desperately needed.

Each day this week we will give you insight into the depths of the real problem. The problems have very little to do with the horse or burro… they all lie deep in land use planning and the fact that BLM has never, ever, even tried to make them integral to the system.

Framework: So you know how we got here.

What does history and background, the forming of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), mean and tell us?

It gives you the framework within which we stand today. It displays why the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is not based on science.  It is based on politics based in history.  When they say this is all the land can sustain so horses will be removed, no, this was determined by politics, not by reality.  People are just repeating things so often many people assume it is a fact.  

We all know about Wild Horse Annie, “The Misfits” movie, the hunting of mustangs, mustanging.  50 Year Anniversary Wild Horse and Burro Act: Special Exhibit — Public Lands, Public Horses 

But most are not familiar with how the land or even the BLM, itself, came about.  The story of where in the system we have to work (to save wild horses and keep them wild) begins with the law, agencies and is all about land management.

In 1934 comes the Taylor Grazing Act when an estimated 150,000 horses roamed.  The federal Grazing Service was established and became involved in regulating livestock grazing on public lands.  Out of that came allocating of rangeland allotments and permits to ranchers in order to stop rapidly deteriorating rangeland health.  Also out of that came the authority to remove horses.  What ensued was 100,000 horses being removed in just four subsequent years from Nevada ranges.

In 1946 BLM was created and combined with the existing agencies: Grazing Service and General Land Office. 

The public was concerned about wild horse population declines and intensive abuse on the range.

We had 150,000 wild horses in 1934.  It went to 25,300.

In 1959 Public Law 86-234 aka the Wild Horse Annie Act was passed to outlaw these brutal practices but was not effective nor enforced.

In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act passed to protect rapidly disappearing horses from the western landscape.

In 1976 the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) reauthorized the use of motorized vehicles for the capture of wild horses and burros, requiring an annual hearing to address public concerns.  Herein the “multiple use mandate” was stated.

FLPMA, in stating the federal land should remain under federal ownership and established a regulatory system for the BLM to manage federal lands, is seen as igniting the Sagebrush Rebellion.  The Sagebrush Rebels sought more local control of federal lands and also reductions in cattle grazing permit fees.  Many see evidence that intimidation of the Rebellion influences BLM decision-making today, including the fabricated Appropriate Management Level (AML) for how many wild horses are allowed to remain living free on public lands.  Many oversight bodies, including the Government Accounting Office and the National Academy of Sciences have repeatedly stated that AML is not based on rigorous and consistent range data and analysis.

In 1978 the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA) amended the 1971 WFRH&B Act to direct the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to determine AML, maintain a current inventory of wild horses and burros and determine whether and where overpopulation exists in a thriving natural ecological balance (TNEB).

In 1978 in a hearing in the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources the range condition report from BLM was reviewed.  Insights were that carrying capacity of the land was truly undetermined and livestock stocking rates seemed to be based on requests, not data.  Most states were not implementing basic range management principles.  Livestock organizations wanted wild horse populations reduced to the 1971 population number.

In 1990 GAO report concluded BLM was making decisions to remove these wild animals without adequate information about range carrying capacity or their impact on range conditions.  And this has been reiterated by multiple oversight reports since then.

In 1986 BLM published the Wild Horse and Burro Program that clarified and expanded regulations.  Management planning was needed that mirrored the scope of other environmental laws.  The Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) is the only management planning document specific to wild horses and burros.  The document, the HMAP is mandated and in the Code of Federal Regulations.

In 1988 in the BLM Report to Congress, BLM promised progress on revisiting AML and doing HMAPs.

In 1980s and 1990s there were multiple instances where federal employees were implicated in the sale to slaughter of protected wild horses.  The corruption of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, from the range through removal and into the adoption program, was more than evident.

In 2020 the BLM Report to Congress reflects much of the same intentions and pressures from before the 1971 Act that continue to lead to where we are today.

It is proper to recognize our public lands are a gift to our country and distinct from anywhere in the world.  A unique American conversation is public lands and all that live there; including the wild horse. In order to protect wild horses for future generations… wild, wild horses… we have to begin by including them in that conversation. 

In order to save the wild horse we have to begin where they begin.

Advocacy needs to be born on the range, just like the wild horse and burro, and follow the man-made trail wherever it leads.

Coming Soon:

Cut to the root: Herd Management Area Planning.

Keep us in the fight

You can also take a few active action items to help our wild ones.

We have several action items. Here are few of the ones active now:

You can learn more about a bill that could stop choppers and gain a real review of capture methods, CLICK HERE. 

You can help us gain a science-based review of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program, CLICK HERE.

We need your help to take the fight against abuse to the next level. CLICK HERE.

A WHE report that can help you address the inflated numbers game presented to Congress/media as you advocate for wild horses, CLICK HERE. 

Categories: Wild Horse Education