Many Source Materials for this section can be obtained from the US government by clicking here


A certain amount of "Mustanging" has always occurred in wild horse country. Often the "mustangers" were local ranchers who also captured horses to train for their own use or to sell as saddle stock, but would occasionally also sell them as meat. They may also have actively managed the wild herds in their area, releasing domestic stallions of their choosing into the herds, and culling out the less desirable individuals. In this way, populations remained under control and wild horses were respected for the most part. Most ranchers enjoyed seeing them out on the range.

During the 20th Century, the keeping of house pets became more and more prevalent. House pets needed food, and the dog food industry, which began in the 1930's, found a ready source of meat in America's wild horses.

At first no one cared. That's all they were good for, people believed, or maybe it was just out of sight, out of mind.

In the post-war years, there was a growing movement of people who were concerned about the cruelty involved in the pet food industry's capturing and butchering of wild horses, as well as concern that they might be eliminated forever.

Special Collections University of Nevada-Reno Library

Tired of the cruelty and concerned about the possibility of wild horse extinction, Velma Johnston, aka "Wild Horse Annie" led a campaign of public awareness. Her groups, ISPMB (International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros), and WHOA (Wild Horse Organized Assistance) worked with Congress, with local governments, and with other groups to enact a range of humane protection laws, from local regulations concerning capture methods, to the establishment of the first Wild Horse Preserves.

(photo from

Velma Johnston, aka "Wild Horse Annie" is the iconic figure associated with the movement, but in no way acted alone. Hundreds, even thousands of citizens across the country were active in wild horse advocacy, some of them just as influential as Annie.

NOTE: This history section is still in its development phase, and so far is admittedly a dry collection of facts gleaned from various legitimate sources. Stay tuned! It will get better as I learn more!

The first wild horse protection laws affected only the Reno area, and later became State Law. Many wild horses, particularly those around the Reno and Carson City areas, still remain under the jurisdiction of the Nevada State Estray laws. However, as local and regional statutes, these early laws did nothing to prevent inhumane gathering of wild horses on Federal land.

In 1959, Congress passed the “Wild Horse Annie Act” (PL 86-234) to provide for the humane treatment of wild horses on federal lands. In effect, it made it illegal to use motorized vehicles to capture wild horses as well as a few other things such as poisoning of water holes. It did not provide for the management of wild horses, nor did it prohibit the capture of wild horses. It simply tried to put a stop to inhumane capture methods. (- Pogachnik, 2001)

Wild Horse Ranges Created:

As activism on the part of wild horses gained steam, the first Preserve was established in 1962 on Nellis Air Force Base in Central Nevada, and named "The Nevada Wild Horse Range" (now the HMA known as NV524) - an area considered perfect for the purpose, since it was already closed to the public. The horses would be guaranteed free from human harassment.

The Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range was the next, established in 1968, on BLM-administered land in Montana by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Managed originally as a sort of a co-op between local advocates and government, in 1969 the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Advisory Board was established. Members included Velma Johnston, C. Wayne Cook, Frank Craighead and others. This board was established specifically to make recommendations and diffuse a volatile situation between the various factions concerning the wild horses on the Pryor Mountains.

In 1974, a few years after the passing of The Act but before the Wild Horse Program was developed, the Little Bookcliffs area of Colorado was also designated as a wild horse preserve.

The creation of the Marietta Wild Burro Range in 1991 completed the "Wild Horse (or in this case, Burro) Ranges."

What's the difference between a "Wild Horse (or burro) Range" and a regular "Herd Management Area" today?

The concept and identification of Herd Management Areas developed rather slowly. They are managed today as areas where wild horses and burros can legally live and be protected and managed. But they are not managed just for them, but in a multiple use concept.

Designation as a Wild Horse or Burro Range means the area may be managed "principally", but not necessarily exclusively, for wild horses or burros


Finally, in 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act. This Act designated wild horses and burros as federally protected species. It still prohibited gathers using motorized equipment (amended later to allow them), and it allowed for the private maintenance of excess wild horses or burros, but with the adopter never receiving title (also changed with a later amendment). This was the first authority given for law enforcement within the BLM. (READ THE FULL TEXT)

The population at this time was estimated to be 17,000 wild horses and 10,000 burros, in 10 western states on BLM and Forest Service land. (Note: Did NOT include National Parks or Us Fish & Wildlife Service land)

"In 1971, Congress introduced and passed The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA). President Richard M. Nixon signed the new Act into law (Public Law 92-195) on December 15, 1971. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act required the protection, management and control of wild free-roaming horses and burros. Local livestock operators now had to claim and permit their private horses and burros grazing on public lands or lose ownership of them. After a specified time period following passage of the Act, any remaining unbranded and unclaimed herds inhabiting BLM or Forest Service lands were declared "wild free-roaming horses and burros" and became the property of the federal government."  (from "MUSTANG COUNTRY)

It was a well-meaning law with a strong mandate from the public. But there was no budget attached, nor any plan or description of just exactly what that protection would look like. The first several years were turbulent, as the country, and the government, tried to figure out how to carry out the law, and to some extent this continues today.

Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management to "Protect and Manage" the herds, but no one had any idea what that would actually look like, and others saw a conflict of interest built into giving wild horse protection to an agency that historically was there to regulate the cattle industry, an agency that came into being with the Taylor Grazing Act - the law that first made wild horses a problem instead of something appreciated by ranchers.

"Herd Areas" were identified and boundaries set in a hurry, without having time to study the behavior patterns, migratory routes (if any for that particular herd), water sources, food sources throughout the year, herd reproductive rates, etc. Many of these areas had to be abandoned due to not having a water source, or being a "checkerboard" area with too much private land mixed in, making management impossible. We are still living with the legacy of this haste.

Red and yellow areas are federally protected wild horse or burro herd areas. Animals living anywhere else are not included in the 1971 WHB Protection Act.

At this time, legal protection of wild horses and burros became limited to just those in identified Herd Areas. Any others were at this time, and forever afterward, excluded. This is the subject of considerable public confusion today. Horses not living in these designated Herd Areas have no legal protection. Well-known excluded areas include the Virginia Range wild horses living in non-BLM lands surrounding Reno and Carson City, Nevada, which are instead subject to State of Nevada "Estray" laws; Wild horses and burros living in National Parks, including Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and Theodore Roosevelt; The three herds on Sheldon National Pronghorn Preserve, which is administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service; as well as small remnant bands of horses living in many County lands throughout the West.

The immediate effect of federal protection was a rapid increase in population. The first BLM gather of wild horses conducted the same year in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana.

1972 saw the first Adoption of wild horses to the public. The idea of "adopting" wild horses came from the need to dispose of the excess Pryor horses and was originally suggested by Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) in meetings prior to the passage of PL 92-195. The statement in the law concerning disposition of excess horses was spawned by these earlier meetings. The statement says excess horses or burros, "may be removed for private maintenance under humane conditions and care." At that time, adoption was more like permanent foster care. The horse was cared for by the adopter, but ownership (and thus, federal protection) stayed with the BLM.

1974 The first National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was created. The DOI and USDA appointed a nine-member advisory board, including Wild Horse Annie, to make recommendations on matters pertaining to wild horses and burros.

In their First Report to Congress, they reported that in just three years, the population had grown to 27,000 horses and 14,000 burros. Permission was requested to gather horses and burros using motorized vehicles. They also asked for authority for the public to obtain ownership of adopted wild horses. Congressional Approval was granted for BLM and the FS to remove approximately 3,929 excess horses and 63 excess burros. Due to difficulties encountered in capturing these animals on horseback, only 1,681 horses and 33 burros were captured. Approximately 900 horses and a few burros were made available to persons under maintenance agreements. The remainder were returned to the range, claimed by owners, or were destroyed.

During the last half of the 1970's, lawsuits were used to establish that the Wild Horse Act of 1971 was in fact legal, but also that horses and burros had to managed within a Multiple Use format, and that BLM and USFS had to create Management Plans for each Herd Area in their jurisdiction, and that these plans would include removals (gathers) of excess horses.

In 1976 the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (PL 94-579) amended the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to permit managing agencies to use helicopters to manage and/or remove excess animals. It also required that BLM balance horse use with other resource uses (Multiple Use). In addition, it instituted CCC (Coordination, Cooperation, and Consultation).

Also in 1976, BLM initiated a national program, the Adopt-A-Horse or Burro Program, to encourage horse enthusiasts to adopt animals gathered from public rangelands.

In 1976, The Supreme Court heard a case "Kleppe v New Mexico " and ruled unanimously that the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was indeed Constitutional.

In 1977,  BLM adopted the Alpha Angle freeze marking system developed by Dr. Keith Farrell at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. In 1978, BLM started to freeze mark animals with permanent individual identification marks (Alpha Angle) making it easier to distinguish a wild horse and burro from a domestic animal.

  ( - T. Pogachnik, "Wild Horse & Burro Timeline, 2001)

In 1978, The Public Rangelands Improvement Act (Public Law 95-514) established or reaffirmed:

  • the need for inventory and identification of current public rangeland conditions (through monitoring);
  • the management, maintenance, and improvement of public rangeland conditions to support all rangeland values;
  • the continuance of provisions protecting wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death while facilitating the removal of excess wild horses and burros that pose a threat to their own habitat and other rangeland resources;
  •  and the transfer of the title of ownership after one year to individuals that adopted wild horses and burros removed from public rangelands, so long as the animals had received humane care and treatment during that year.

This Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA) amended the WFRHBA to stress the multiple use concept of public lands, and to authorize the removal of horses when necessary to maintain a "thriving ecological balance" and protect the range from deterioration associated with overpopulation of wild horses and burros.

It removed the provision that required herd areas be managed “principally” for the benefit of the wild horses. It also created a requirement for research study, and to establish an order and priority for removal of excess animals. It also called for an inventory of rangeland conditions and inventory of wild horse and burro herds.

Also in 1978, Several Holding & Adoption Centers were created:

The first contract adoption center ever set up by the BLM was in Spanaway, WA. Others were set up, also as contract facilities in Eugene, Oregon, Cross Plains, Tennessee and Valley Mills, Texas.

Palomino Valley Wild Horse & Burro Facility was purchased and initial improvements were made.

The Eugene Wild Horse & Adoption Center Opened in Sept of 1978 and ran until Sept 1986. "In that time it adopted out over 3000 horses and 150 burros to adopters from all over the U.S. The policy that was developed there was that every horse leaving the facility was halter broke to the point that it could be tied and led. All horses left the facility with a nylon web halter and 20' of poly lead rope attached to the halter. Most stallions were gelded at the center with only a few stallions going out to knowledgeable horsemen. The Eugene Center also took back and reassigned horses that people could no longer keep and those whose adopters were in over their heads. Clinics were held both at the center and at all Satellite adoptions on halter starting, leading, how to tie a foot up for working safely with your horse as well as at least one 2-3 year old went through ground driving and the first 3 rides at all major satellite adoptions. Chuck John also started a number of horses that were not moving well and adopted them out. We delivered horses all over the NW and often had people call us when they needed help and one of us would talk them through their problems and keep up with them to make sure things were headed in the right direction. We often shipped multiple horses to the same people over the years."- Sandee Force

In 1979, the first permanent holding facility in the East was established in Cross Plains, Tennessee. Randall & Paula Carr operated it until the contract was moved to Elgin, Illinois in the early 2000's. Carr's facilities processed over 20,000 animals – not only adopting but also holding, sorting, vetting, hoof trimming, and medical attention.

By 1978, 36 Herd Management Plans plans and 29 FS territory plans had been developed since they began in 1976.

Further lawsuits contesting the Wild Horse & Burro Act continued, from such various groups as the National Wildlife Federation and local rancher groups. Court rulings further influenced the development of the Program.


As important as the 1971 Wild Horse & Burro Freedom Act is to wild horse & burro issues, it is also important to know about the Sagebrush Rebellion, as these two forces acted - and to some extent still act - as weights on opposite ends of a teeter-totter of policy-making. To understand wild horse politics, it is important to know about the Sagebrush Rebellion and the powerful effect it had in the region, and continues to have.

The "Sagebrush Rebellion" was most active in Nevada during the 1960's through late 1970's. The Sagebrush Rebels targeted wild horses as an expression of local people's contempt for increasing federal intervention in their lives and ways of doing business. Animosity toward wild horses from the ranching community continues to this day.

Here are some links:

  • Sagebrush rebels - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    "Sagebrush rebels is a group that attempted to influence environmental policy in the American West during the 1970s and 1980s, surviving into the 21st century in public lands states (generally, the 13 western states where federal land holdings include 30% to more than 50% of a state's area), and surviving in organized groups pressuring public lands policy makers, especially for grazing of sheep and cattle on public lands, and for mineral extraction policies.
    ...The term "Sagebrush Rebellion" was coined during fights over designation of National Wilderness lands, especially in western states..." see link above for the complete article
  • "Wild Horses, First Target by Nevada's Sagebrush Rebels" by Rose Strickland
    (Reprinted from "Western Sportsman" –the official voice of the Nevada Wildlife Federation, –February 1997 issue.)
    "Nevada State Senator Dean Rhoads’ Legislative Committee on Public Lands (and also regarded as the father of the Sagebrush Rebellion and is a public lands permittee and rancher)
    is wasting no time after November’s elections to eliminate or cripple the state’s role in protecting the wild horses on public lands in Nevada." (click link for complete article)
  • Sagebrush Rebellion: A terrible idea that won't go away

The Cliven Bundy phenomenon of 2014 shows that the Sagebrush Rebellion is still very much alive and well today.

Here's another expression of "The Other Side" of wild horses: 41 Years of Wild Horse Hell, Range Magazine, Summer 2014

BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program Continues to develop:

In 1980, the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range was designated in Colorado. As a "Wild Horse Range" it was set up to be managed principally (though not necessarily exclusively) for wild horses, as opposed to ordinary Herd Management Areas, which are managed strictly within a Multiple Use format.

In 1982 new regulations set adoption fees at $200 for a horse and $75 for burros. It also provided for power of attorney whereby an adopter could elect to have someone else select and adopt in his/her absence. Prior to this time the adoption fee was between $0 and $145.

The Hughes Case established that private individuals can not exercise humane destruction unless authorized. If they do, they can be held criminally responsible.

National Academy of Sciences established methodology for monitoring standards. They called for additional research and information as well as to pull together existing information.

The  BLM Director and Forest Service Chief placed a moratorium on the destruction of unadopted excess animals through the Burford Policy. Prior to this, "excess" animals gathered but not adopted, were "humanely destroyed." This did not sit well with the public.

A congressional committee and the Office of Management and Budget recommended recovery of some of the costs of adoption. In addition to the base adoption fee, additional fees were added if the animal was transported· from the facility where it was prepared for adoption to another adoption center. These additional costs resulted in an immediate chilling effect on new adoption rates. So in 1983, it was abandoned. The adoption fee for a wild horse was reduced from $200 to $125 in response to public concern and reduced adoption demand.

In 1983 Sale Authority was requested. Bills were introduced (but not passed) to amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to allow sale at auction of un-adopted animals. These bills were hotly contested and were not passed.

Holding facilities were set up for 10,000 horses.

In 1984, a case " US v Johnson " Held that a person can be criminally prosecuted for conversion (theft) instead of WH&B violations, or in addition to WH&B violations in appropriate cases.

Also in 1984, An emergency rule was published that gave the Director the authority to adjust or waive the adoption fee for animals unadopted at the standard fee. To maximize the effect of the rule and to avoid interfering with the regular adoption program, BLM required that a minimum of 100 animals be involved in each fee waiver or reduction transaction. Approximately 700 otherwise unadoptable animals were placed as a result of this rule between May 1984 and September 30, 1984. However, the public was very suspicious of this program, and it was widely protested.

BLM also eliminated transportation costs to adoption sites, making adoption fees uniform throughout the Country.

In 1985 Congress tripled program funding and directed BLM to triple removals. BLM accomplished a record number of removals: 19,000.

This, of course, created overcrowding of holding pens. Three holding facilities were in operation that could hold a capacity of up to 3,000 each (Bloomfield, Nebraska, Lovelock, Nevada, and Muleshoe, Texas) if needed. By the end of Fiscal Year {FY) 1985 more than 7,600 animals were being maintained in the contract facilities, and another 2,300 animals were being cared for in BLM's own corrals.

A contract was awarded to the University of Minnesota for a fertility control research project. It was challenged as mishandling and inhumane handling of horses used in research.

In 1986, the Second Advisory Board was held. Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior established a Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which proposed a 5-step process for excess animals. Step 5 was humane destruction of un adopted animals. Other steps included getting sale authority from Congress, recommending Prison Training, and recommending Sanctuaries to reduce the high cost of holding animals in feedlots. Sanctuaries were supposed to become self sufficient.

The first inmate-wild horse training program instituted in Colorado at the Canon City, Colorado, correctional facility. (prison training was one of the steps recommended by the Advisory Board.)

A lawsuit, Dahl v Clark, was heard in the District Court 9th Circuit Court. The result mandated rules that BLM should manage towards establishing a "Thriving Ecological Balance", with no particular number required.

In 1987, a Draft policy incorporating Advisory Board's recommendations was made available for comment. Public response opposed the proposal to lift the moratorium on destruction of unadopted animals. Two new maintenance contracts were awarded for FY 1988 to existing facilities at Bloomfield and Lovelock. California, New Mexico, and Wyoming instituted prison training programs.

In API v Hodel, U.S. District Court for Nevada prohibited BLM from adopting animals or transferring titles to adopters who had "expressed to the Secretary an intent, upon the granting of title, to use said animals for commercial purposes". The decision stated, however, that the BLM is not required to inquire about adopter intentions prior to approving adoptions or conveying titles or to reclaim animals whose titles had already passed to adopters.

A "20-20" news story covered of an event where BLM was sending wild horses scheduled for destruction to a zoo for use as lion food. This resulted in a lot of negative publicity.

Also in 1987, BLM achieved a record number of adoptions - 12,776 - through a combination regular and fee-waiver adoptions.

In 1988, Congress prohibited use of FY 1988 funds to destroy healthy unadopted wild horses and burros. The same prohibition language in the Interior Appropriation Bills every year since.

BLM was issued guidance including most of Advisory Board's recommendations, but not the destruction of unadopted animals.

The First sanctuary for 2000 unadopted excess wild horses was established in Western South Dakota.

With the establishment of federal sanctuaries, BLM terminated their unpopular fee waiver program in September of 1988.

Contract was awarded for one new holding facility (Bloomfield) for FY 1989.

1989 BLM had four states with prison sites that were operational, and 1,700 wild horses received training prior to being offered for adoption. Second sanctuary was chosen in September near Bartlesville; Oklahoma.

Removals were reduced or stopped in most locations from appeals by humane groups to Interior Board of Land Appeals. Removal decisions must be based on monitoring data. This led to a major population increase in the horse population.

In 1990, the GAO issued a report finding the BLM to be inconsistent on our forage allocation between horses and livestock.

The Third Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was charted in May for a 2-year term. They recommended fertility control, increasing burro fee to $125, creating the First Strategic Plan, and responded to a negative GAO report on the cost and effectiveness of Prison Training.

The BLM Director established a Wild Horse and Burro Steering Committee to focus on critical issues in the administration of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This committee is made up of 5 western Associate State Directors.

In 1991 BLM issued the selective removal policy where all excess animals older than 9 years of age were returned to the range to reduce the number of unadoptable  horses.

Ultimately, manipulating population demographics proved to have unexpected negative results, so in more recent times, BLM tries to maintain a more "natural" ratio of ages and gender.


Since the initial Act was created in response to fears of wild horse and burro extinction, and was focused on protection, the fact that wild horses have a high reproductive rate and that populations would need to be controlled, perhaps caught people by surprise. But quickly it became a problem.

So horses were gathered. Gathered horses were offered for adoption. But there are problems with gathers, and when more horses are gathered than can be adopted, there are more problems.

A few people realized from almost the beginning that fertility control was needed. Here is an interesting interview of Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick about population management:


The South Dakota Sanctuary was deemed to be not self-sufficient, and BLM signed agreements for continued maintenance of wild horses.

1992 - The BLM Director approved the program's first long-range strategic planning document. This was developed partly to respond to the significant increases in horse populations resulting from legal constraints to gathering beginning in 1989. It changed the driving force of the Wild Horse & Burro program from disposition to herd management.

The Division of Wild Horse and Burro Management was renamed the Wild Horse and Burro National Program Office and moved from Washington, D.C. to Reno, Nevada. BLM began reducing the number of wild horses in the sanctuaries through the adoption program in an effort to reduce costs at the sanctuaries. The selective removal policy changed from 9 years of age and younger to 3 years of age and younger would be removed from the range. In practice, 5 years of age and under were removed during the first gathers under this policy. BLM initiated a pilot fertility control effort.

In 1993, another lawsuit, Blake v Babbitt, established that full force and effect decisions are lawful, and that decisions on removals must be based on the best information available at the time.

The Office of Inspector General initiated a review of the wild horse sanctuaries and the New Mexico prison training program. The South Dakota Sanctuary was closed and the remaining horses were shipped to the Oklahoma Sanctuary. The Black Hills Sanctuary became self-sufficient and still has approximately 200 wild horses.

In 1994 The Office of Inspector General's report was completed, recommending closure of sanctuaries due to high costs. As a result of this report, a strategy was developed to adopt out the remaining sanctuary horses. Also, as a result of this report, funding to the prison training programs was curtailed. A Wild Horse and Burro web site was developed and activated.

In 1995 efforts to adopt older mares proved to be successful. However, geldings were not readily adopted by the public. Adopting these animals far exceeded the expense of maintaining them on the sanctuary.

1996 saw the first Emergency Gathers, which started in July and continued to the end of September. These gathers were conducted in the Southern part of Nevada and on the Nellis Air Force Base. The emergency condition was caused by a lack of rain and forage. By the end of September, BLM removed 3,100 animals under emergency conditions.

In August, the Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Team was established to investigate the emergency situation in Nevada.

In 1997, Starting in January, horses on the Nellis Air Force range were gathered again to reduce the number of animals on the range. A total of 778 animals were gathered, including 16 burros, with 201 animals released back into the herd management area. Since the Nellis herd consisted of older animals, it was recognized that some of these older stallions would be removed to the sanctuary, and some would be halter-trained.

Also in January of 1997, Martha Mendoza, a reporter for the Associated Press, released a damning report of abuses within the BLM system, in which many wild horses ended up at the slaughterhouse. Read LA TImes story by clicking here. The charges were serious and an investigation followed. BLM was ultimately cleared of charges but the public's doubts remained. Read Ms. Mendoza's account of the investigation by clicking here.

Within BLM, The Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program Policy Analysis Team, led by Pete Culp, State Director, Eastern States, was established in January to conduct a review of BLM adoption policies. This review was driven by Associated Press Articles by Martha Mendoza concerning specific allegations of violations of BLM regulations and policy. The panel recommended that all wild horse and burro specialists must receive training, in order to avoid these incidents.

The Wild Horse and Burro Program Emergency Review Team's final report was issued in February. This report addressed herd management in Nevada as well as overall management in the Wild Horse and Burro Program. In February, Law Enforcement personnel concluded their investigation on wild horses going to slaughter facilities. They found that one quarter of one percent of the animals slaughtered in a year's time were titled wild horses. Wild horses are but a small fraction of the overall horse population in North America, too, so that result wasn't particularly satisfying to the wild horse activists, and the Mendoza report is still talked about by people and groups today.

On March 7, the regulation to change the adoption fee became final. The adoption fee for each wild horse or burro is a minimum of $125 each. Mares with foals are a total of $250 for the pair. In addition, some adoptions may be conducted using a competitive-bidding process.

A settlement with Animal Protection Institute and Fund for Animals was agreed to by BLM. This agreement related to a clause that was to be added to the PMACA which would ask the adopter of their intentions, at the time of adoption, concerning selling the animals for slaughter.

1997 was also the year of the first helicopter gather of wild horses on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. A foal was fatally injured, which resulted in widespread bad press for the BLM program.

In 1998, adoption demand dropped and the focus was shifted somewhat from removals to marketing wild horses and burros. Reduced adoptions started resulting in a backlog of animals in the system. The intent clause and a requirement for a Social Security Number was added to the PMACA.

The East Mojave Preserve was added to the Mojave National Preserve which was established in 1994 by the California Desert Protection Act. The loss of the East Mojave area by BLM resulted in the loss of 4 HMAs and parts of four others. All the burros were removed from these areas by the National Park Service.

Training contracts were issued in several states for the gentling of older horses. These efforts were largely unsuccessful and abandoned. One such plan, shown on Public Television, involved placing a horse in a box and then pouring grain into the box, up to the horse's neck, thus immobilizing it. The horse would then be petted and gently spoken to, until it somehow "earned" that the human was its friend. When some horses died of stress-induced heart attacks, this method was abandoned. Other attempts involved much less draconian techniques, but none had great success.

The first Internet adoption was conducted in 1998.

In 1999, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was formulated and analyzed. A Population Viability Forum was held in Fort Collins, Colorado. A "Statement of Work" between BLM and APHIS approved. USDA, Slaughterhouse MOU was finalized The first Satellite down link adoptions were conducted.

In 2000, The "Strategy for the Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Land" was approved. This strategy called for a 5-year plan, in which massive gathers would reduce wild populations to their set Appropriate Management Level (AML) - a number set through a combination of field science and negotiating with all the various "stakeholders." The plan, approved and funded by Congress, called for a massive increase in gathers, with excess horses that could not be absorbed by the adoption program going to federally-funded "Sanctuaries" also known as LTH (Long-Term Holding).

The plan was to get the entire system of managed herds down to AML by 2005. After that time, only maintenance gathers would be needed, and most of these horses could be adopted through the adoption program. Increased demand for horses through better marketing, combined with natural attrition through horses getting old and dying, would gradually reduce the LTH population.

It was a good plan and still would be - EXCEPT that AML was never reached. Was this because of poor census numbers in the first place or what, I don't know. Briefly in 2005, BLM believed itself to have reached AML, only to discover, a few months later, that they had undercounted and there were thousands more horses still on the range that they had not expected. Massive, and massively protested, gathers continued. The national economic recession of 2007 - 2009 caused adoption fervor to plummet, and so far (2014) adoption demand has never recovered. The large numbers of animals in LTH and the costs associated with caring for them has become a huge political hot button.

The Fund for Animals requested enforcement of the settlement agreement concerning wild horses and burros going to slaughter. The first Facility Managers/Facility Veterinarians/APIDS Veterinarians was held in Fort Collins, Colorado.

This agreement included a title check for any BLM branded animals showing up at slaughter houses. If the animal was accompanied by a valid certificate of title, the slaughter was legal. If not, the animal was not eligible for slaughter and BLM was to be notified to repossess the animal.

Adoption Standardization team was formed Issued contracts for two long term holding facilities- one in Cassody, Kansas, and one in Catossa, Oklahoma. These contracts were not finalized until FY 01.

Temple Grandin reviewed wild horse and burro facilities.

A mentoring agreement was finalized.

A contract was issued to Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., to develop a Marketing Plan.

In 2001 The Strategy was funded by Congress and implemented by BLM. Contracts were finalized for Long Term Holding Facilities. The Marketing Plan prepared by Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., was accepted by BLM in January and implemented in May. Biological Resources Division developed research strategy for the wild horse and burro program.

In 2001, the BLM entered into a partnership with what was originally called the Wild Horse & Burro Foundation, soon changed to Mustang Heritage Foundation to avoid confusion with a private group in Texas by the same name. Their "Extreme Mustang Makeovers" and later, Mustang Million, Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover, and TIP (Trainer Incentive Program) Programs did much to popularize wild horse adoption and raise public awareness. After the economic downturn of 2007 - 9, the majority of BLM adoptions (78% in Oregon for instance) were from Mustang Heritage Foundation events.


The program has always had volunteers, but in the 1990's, it really began to take off, in response partly to the rise in adoptions. A group called Wild Horse Mentors/LRTC worked actively with BLM nationwide and especially in the West to help new adopters and encourage new adoptions. Beginning in 1998, they held annual Wild Horse Workshops at various locations across the country, to teach humane gentling methods. The last Wild Horse Workshop was held in 2006. LRTC continues working to help adopters and wild horses, especially the Virginia Range horses who have no legal protection.

The Pacific Wild Horse Club, The Intermountain Wild Horse & Burro Advisors, Florida Wild Horse Club, American Wild Horse & Burro Association, and others across the country continue to provide gentling workshops and other activities. Recently several new wild horse and burro clubs - local, regional, and national - are springing up.

The California BLM Volunteer Program evolved in the early 2000's and at its peak, it involved an organized system of trained volunteers, organized into regional hubs, to help BLM maintain the country's only 99% compliance check record for adoptions. These volunteers performed important work during the heyday of adoptions, ending suddenly with the economic crash and burst of the real estate bubble in about 2008 - 2009. Volunteers are still active at adoption events, bringing their "ambassador" trained mustangs and burros, meeting and greeting the public, helping with setup and managing the silent bid adoptions, etc. With the sudden drop in adoptions after the economic downturn, the Volunteer program has been less active, although volunteers still hold "Meet and Greets" and other activities designed to increase public awareness.

The Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo began in the 1990's as "The National Wild Horse Show", based in Reno, Nevada. It changed its name in 2001 in response to a dream of developing a series of cooperating shows across the country, with points earned for wins, and the Reno event was to be the Grand National Finals for mustangs and burros. This system never developed, but the Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo remains the biggest and perhaps most prestigious wild horse and burro show in the country, attended by mustangs and burros and their adopters from all over the western states, and sometimes further east.

This section just presents "the tip of the iceberg" of volunteer activities across the country - volunteers remain the often unrecognized but driving force behind the very existence and continued success of the wild horse and burro program.


In 2004/2005, the most recent change to the law was the December 2004 sale-authority law (the so-called "Burns Amendment"), which was inserted rather surreptitiously into a budget item, when most of Congress was celebrating the holidays. The much-hated Burns Amendment directs the BLM to sell "without limitation" to any willing buyers animals that are either more than 10 years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times.
Read The BLM Page about Sales Authority

Public acceptance of this law has been rabidly poor. BLM states on their own website that "It has been and remains the policy of the BLM, despite the unrestricted sales authority of the Burns Amendment, not to sell any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to "kill buyers. After several well-publicized sales scandals, the most recent (as of this writing) being the ProPublica expose' of Tom Davis in Colorado, (Click here to read) BLM issued this January, 2013 News Memo:

January 4, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BLM) - The Bureau of Land Management today announced a policy 
 - in the form of what's known as an interim Instruction Memorandum - regarding new
conditions and restrictions on wild horse and burro sales. The new policy was prompted
by the BLM's overall effort to improve its management and care of wild horses and
burros that roam Western public rangelands.

"Today's announcement marks another step forward in our agency's steady improvement in
ensuring the health and humane treatment of wild horses and burros, both on and off the
range," said BLM Acting Director Mike Pool.

The new policy, which is effective immediately, will remain so until the BLM's Wild
Horse and  Burro Program publishes additional guidance on wild
horse and burro sales.

The policy stipulates that:

*  No more than four wild horses and/or wild burros may be bought by an individual or
group within a six-month period from the BLM without prior approval of the Bureau's
Assistant Director for Renewable Resources and Planning.

*  When buying wild horses and/or wild burros, purchasers must describe where they
intend to keep the animals for the first six months following the sale. Without
prior approval from the Assistant Director, the BLM will not sell more than
four animals destined for a single location in this six-month period.

*  Buyers must provide transportation for the purchased animal from the BLM's short-
term holding corrals or other locations to its new home. Specifics regarding
acceptable trailers can be obtained from the new interim policy, which is posted at:
(Link to Instruction Memorandum No. 2013-032)

*The BLM will inspect trailers and reserves the right to refuse loading if the trailer
does not ensure the safety and humane transport of the animal.

The BLM encourages anyone who has observed inhumane treatment or the sale to a 
slaughterhouse of a federally protected wild horse or burro, or who has factual
information about such an incident, to contact the Bureau at  or
866-4MUSTANGS (866-468-7826) with your name, contact information, and
specific information about what you saw or know about.

The Wild Horse & Burro Program of the BLM has always been, and remains, one of the most poorly-funded programs in government.

Stay tuned for further developments....