By Tim Leeds
Some American legends will be looking for new homes in the Havre area on Saturday, July 29.
This year Havre will participate in the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior (BLM) Adopt-a-Wild-Horse or -Burro program for the first time. About 35 horses and 5 burros are being brought in for the adoption, being held by the Havre Field Station of the BLM. The adoption will be held at the Bigger Better Barn at the Great Northern Fairground at 10 a.m. The public is welcome and invited to attend.
The horses will be available for viewing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, July 28 and starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, July 29, prior to the adoption. Jim Maher, an alumni adopter from southwestern Montana, will be attending several adoptions this year, bringing horses he has adopted and answering questions the public has.
While horses are not native to North America, current census figures estimate there are almost 40,000 wild horses and more than 5,000 wild burros on public lands managed by the and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
Most wild horses and burros are the descendants of animals who escaped from or were freed by Spanish explorers, Native Americans, ranchers, farmers, miners and soldiers. Today's wild horses and burros are unbranded, unclaimed, free-roaming horse or burro found on BLM or U.S. Forest Service Administered land.
All wild horses and burros are protected by the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Under the act, the BLM and the USFS are responsible for the management, protection and control of the wild horses and burros found on public lands. Federal protection and scarcity of natural predators allows the number of animals to increase yearly.
The BLM conducts a census of each of the approximately 200 herd management areas on a rotating basis, about every three or four years. At times it is necessary to remove excess wild horses and burros to protect and maintain healthy herds and their habitat. Through the Adopt-a-Wild-Horse or -Burro Program, these animals are offered to qualified individuals to adopt, provide foster care for and eventually own.
Through fiscal year 1998, about 169,000 animals have been adopted since the program began in 1973. Between 6,000 and 8,000 horses and 500 to 1,000 burros are offered for adoption to the general public every year.
Every wild horse and burro offered for adoption has been examined by a veterinarian, has received any necessary medical treatment, and has been tested for disease, immunized and wormed. A record of the animal's medical history is given to each adopter.
The federal government owns the animal until the BLM issues title to the adopter. When the adopter signs an adoption contract at the adoption, he automatically applies for the title to the animal. After one year, the BLM will send the adopter a Title of Eligibility Letter. The adopter must obtain a statement from a qualified person, such as veterinarian, county extension agent or humane society representative, verifying that the adopter has provided humane care and treatment. The adopter must return the letter and the statement to the BLM. The BLM will then mail the title to the adopter.
People wishing to adopt a wild horse or burro must be pre-approved. This involves completing an application and questionnaire and having an inspection of the facilities where the animal will be kept. A prospective owner must be at least 18 years old, have suitable facilities and feed, and never have been convicted of abuse or inhumane treatment of animals. People who have expressed intent to commercially exploit the wild nature of a horse or burro, such as for bucking stock, or to sell them for slaughter or processing will not be allowed to adopt.
Approved adopters will be notified of upcoming adoptions in their area. In addition to the Havre adoption, this year there are also adoptions in Lewistown on Aug. 5 and in Glasgow on Aug. 26. Applications must be received no later than July 14 in order to be pre-approved for the Havre adoption.
Adoptions are held using the competitive bid process, with a minimum bid of $125. Mares with unweaned foals are adopted together, with a minimum bid of $250. People may receive up to four titles in one year.
Facilities where the animals will be kept are carefully regulated. Newly adopted wild horses or burros must be kept in an enclosed corral with a minimum area of 400 square feet (20 by 20 feet,) or larger, per animal. This amount of space is large enough to allow an animal to exercise, while small enough to allow for human exposure.
Fences must be at least four feet high for burros and six feet high for ungentled horses. Horses under 18 months of age may be kept in corrals with fences five feet high. Fences should be of pole, pipe or plank construction and must not have dangerous protrusions. Barbed wire is not allowed in stalls or corrals. Ungentled animals should not be released into any large open area, such as a pasture.
An animal is considered gentled when it can be approached, handled, haltered and led without it attempting to escape. Gentled animals must be exercised daily and should have a box stall of at least 144 square feet (12 by 12 feet,) or larger, that is well ventilated, drained and frequently cleaned.
Adopters must provide transportation for their animal from the adoption site to their new home. Another person may transport the animal, but the trailer used must have a covered top, sturdy walls and floors and a smooth interior free from any sharp protrusions, have ample head room, partitions or compartments to separate animals by size and sex if necessary, a floor provided with a non-skid material, and adequate ventilation. All trucks and trailers may be inspected by the BLM before loading.
Parents or guardians may adopt, then allow younger family members to care for the animals. Many youths have cared for and trained the animals as projects for 4-H, FFA, county fairs and Scouts.
The Wild Horse and Burro Show Association (WHBSA) has held shows to promote the adoption of the animals for the last nine years. The show is held in Reno, and proceeds from the show are used to support the next year's event as well as a grant program for range improvements in wild horse herd areas.
For an application for the adoption, call Laura Thompson at the Havre BLM office at 265-5891, or write to P.O. Box 911, Havre MT 59501.
For more information, visit the BLM wild horse and burro adoption website at www.blm.gov/whb/, or the WHBSA website at www.wild-horse.org