By Crystal Thompson
In 1971, Congress passed legislation to protect, manage and control wild horses and burros on public rangelands. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act allows the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to offer animals removed from the range for private maintenance and care.
In July of 2000, Havre's BLM Field Station hosted its first wild horse and burro adoption at the Bigger Better Barn at the Great Northern Fairgrounds. Out of 43 animals, the BLM placed 23 to area farmers and ranchers. 11 mares, three studs and nine burros were adopted at Havre's adoption, according to Laura Thompson, adoption coordinator.
The BLM manages wild horses and burros in 186 herd management areas in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. The primary purpose of herd management is to protect the animals and their habitat. Herd management area plans state the resource objectives for the herd areas, set the management actions required to reach the objectives, discuss monitoring and census requirements and document the structural improvements required. An environmental analysis is conducted on the plan to ensure the environment is protected within the economic and social constraints for the present and future.
According to the BLM, wild horses and burros have no true natural predators, other than an occasional mountain lion, therefore herds increase at relatively high rates. When populations of wildlife, wild horses, wild burros or domestic livestock exceed the capabilities of their habitat, the environment begins to decline and there is no longer a thriving natural ecological balance. If the decline is prolonged, it leads to poor rangeland health and accelerates a decrease in the health of the animals. Therefore, the BLM annually monitors the condition of the animals and their habitat.
When BLM determines that there are too many wild horses or burros, a gather plan and environmental analysis is prepared and the public is invited to comment. Animals are normally gathered using helicopters and herded into portable traps. Excess animals may also be caught in traps using food or water as bait. To protect the animals, stallions are separated from the mares and if need be, weaned foals are separated from the larger animals. BLM maintains very strict requirements about the gathering of wild horses and burros.
BLM employees decide which animals are to go back on the range and which animals are to be placed into the adoption program. Generally the more desirable younger animal is selected for adoption. Animals selected for the adoption program are carefully placed in trucks and transported to adoption preparation centers. Preparation includes sorting, identifying, health care and recording data. After an animal has been maintained at a preparation facility for a minimum of 30 days and they have received their booster vaccinations, they are then shipped directly to an adoption site or to the Wild Horse and Burro Holding Facility at Elm Creek, Nebraska. The public is informed of adoption sites throughout the United States by a variety of public affairs efforts.
After the public is notified of the location, they can contact the office conducting the adoption to receive information on how they may adopt a horse or burro. The BLM then provides potential adopters written information regarding eligibility and requirements. All applications must be approved by a BLM official. In most cases, BLM officials conduct a pre-adoption inspection of the facility where the adopted animal is to be maintained. In some cases, adopters who are not pre-approved are allowed to adopt an animal from the adoption site, however, upon signing the adoption agreement, they are citing that adequate facilities are available at the time of adoption.
After adopting a horse or burro, adopters can expect to be checked on for compliance by BLM employees. Thompson is still in the process of completing compliance checks with area adopters. Thompson said that she has done several compliance checks since the July adoption. "Our local adopters have had no trouble taking proper care of their animals," Thompson said.
A year after a horse or burro is adopted, the adopter is eligible to gain the title to the animal; provided that the animal has been properly cared for and the facilities have passed all BLM compliance checks. A veterinary check is also required before acquisition of a title.
If the BLM finds that adopters are not meeting requirements, necessary improvements will be suggested. If the adopter fails to comply, the horse may be removed from his care. "The BLM always tries to work with the adopter before a horse is taken away," Thompson said.
Thompson said that there have been very few problems with local adopters meeting compliance requirements. "About the only problem we've come across is the hooves needing trimmed," she said. Thompson added that since the July adoption, only one adopter has been unhappy with an animal, "and we were able to find it a new home that same day," she said.
Thompson said that many people have the wrong impression of wild horses and burros. "A lot of people don't want them because they think they're all inbred and stupid," Thompson said, "But many become very tame and friendly in time and make superb riding horses."
When a wild horse or burro is offered for adoption it probably hasn't been more than 90 days since it was running in the wild, say BLM sources. Therefore, many are unaccustomed to people. However, with patience, horses can be gentled and trained for many uses.
Wild horses have become champions in dressage, barrel racing, jumping, endurance racing and pleasure riding. They are best known for their sure-footedness, strength and endurance. Young horses gentle more quickly than older ones, while wild burros gently quickly regardless of age.
Many times, horses who have spent longer periods of time in holding and adopting facilities are more tame than recently captured animals.
Under the competitive bidding process, the minimum adoption fee charged for each wild horse or burro is $125. Adoptions held at temporary adoption sites, like Havre, usually use the competitive bidding process.
The adoption fee helps to defray the cost of gathers, medical treatments, transportation and adoption.
Thompson said that the Havre BLM Field Station hopes to hold another adoption some time within the next few years, depending on conditions.
"Whether we hold another adoption depends a lot on the drought condition and public interest, but we hope to hold another one soon," she said.
For more information on the Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro program, write to: BLM Billings Field Office, P.O. Box 36800 Billings, Montana 59105.