Balancing Act

by Jessi Hartline

The American Mustang is protected under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The Bureau of Land Management keeps a count of all wild horses on the range and as of February 2010 approximately 38,400 horses and burros roam on BLM managed land.  Because a wild herd can almost double in size every four years, the range cannot sustain such fast growing numbers.  Soil erosion, stream sedimentation, and damage to other wildlife habitats are some results from overpopulation.  For wild horses and burros, overpopulation is a serious problem. The available land cannot provide enough space or resources for quickly growing herds.  Action must be taken to preserve the land and all the wildlife.
            The Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, presented the Wild Horse and Burro Development Document to the BLM in October 2009. It lists several objectives for more effectively dealing with the issue of overpopulation.  Currently this document is available to the public for review and comment (please refer to bibliography for websites).  It is critical to balance land management, herd size, and the money spent on preserving wild horses and burros.  Some of the options for population control are birth control, changing male/female ratios in herds, more effective gather methods, and adoption.  The website states the following: 
 In October 2009, the Secretary of the Interior proposed a national initiative intended to create a cost-efficient and sustainable wild horse and burro management program by:
·    Balancing annual herd growth rates with adoption demand.
·    Establishing preserves in the productive grasslands of the Midwest and East.
·    Showcasing treasured herds in the West with special designations.
Over time, the implementation of the Secretary’s initiative is expected to reduce the number of unadopted wild horses in short-term corrals or long-term pastures; reduce the costs to the American taxpayer for their care; and conserve, protect and manage these iconic animals in the West for future generations to enjoy.

            As I am currently training a mustang, I see firsthand the value of adoption.  Many of the gathered horses put in holding facilities get adopted through the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program.  Over 225,000 horses and burros have been adopted since 1971.  However, even with the adoption program there are over 35,000 animals in holding (as of May 2010).  More people are needed to adopt a mustang which requires raising awareness to potential adopters.  This can be accomplished through partnerships between the BLM and support organizations. 
            The Mustang Heritage Foundation, founded in 2001, is a non-profit organization which gets attention for and promotes the Adoption Program.  This led to the creation of the Extreme Mustang Makeover, an event that showcases mustangs’ athletic ability, beauty, and ability to learn.  With fun competitions and trainer incentive programs, people are learning more about mustangs and are getting involved.  All of the MHF efforts to raise awareness for the mustangs and provide already trained horses for adoption have increased the number of successful adoptions.
            I believe balancing annual herd growth rates, primarily through birth control, with the demand for adoption to be the most effective way of dealing with overpopulation. I believe this can be achieved through the strategies outlined in the Wild Horse and Burro Strategy Development Document carried out by the BLM with consideration of public input.


“National Wild Horse & Burro Program:  Adoption Information.”  US DEPT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT. 

“2010 Salazar Initiative.”  MUSTANGS4US.COM.

“Mission.”  “Extreme Mustang Makeover.”  MUSTANG HERITAGE FOUNDATION.