Get the facts about BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program

Photo taken at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary by Irene Vejar.

Whether motivated by money or politics, those who wish to see free-roaming wild horses and burros captured and removed from our public lands tell tales of these iconic animals destroying rangeland, starving or both – all based on sparse anecdotal evidence, at most. The facts and best-available estimates (often from the Bureau of Land Management itself) tell a very different story: one of wild horses and burros that much-beloved by the American people yet nevertheless are unfairly blamed for an outsized impact on the land, when compared to their relatively small footprint. Lawmakers are told again and again that there is a “wild horse problem.” The truth is that wild horses have been mismanaged by the BLM, which clings to an antiquated, inhumane and expensive system of helicopter roundups and warehousing of wild horses and burros despite the existence of safe, proven fertility control vaccine. Since 2007, BLM has failed to invest even 4% of its annual program budget on fertility control or other humane, on-range management tools and practices, even as the cost of roundups and holding facilities to taxpayers – and to the animals themselves – keeps climbing. The result: 43,886 wild horses and 1,434 burros — about 36% of those under BLM management – now lives in a corral or on a leased pasture. There is no “wild horse problem”; there is a wild horse challenge that is largely manmade — a challenge that with political will and thoughtful, science-based management can be met, allowing wild horses and burros to remain free on their rightful home ranges.


FACT 1: Since 1971, 22.2million acres of land have been removed as wild horse habitat.

  • In 1971,wild horses and burros roamed on 53.8 million acres of land, of which 42.4 millionacres were under the BLM’s jurisdiction. Herd Areas and Herd Management Areas were created on those areas managed by the BLM as mandated by Congress with the passing of The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act.
  •  Today,the BLM manages wild horses and burros in subsets of these Herd Areas (known as Herd Management Areas) that comprise 31.6 million acres, of which 26.9 millionacres are under BLM management. (Total Herd Management Areas: 177.)



53,800,000:  Acres of land on which wild horses were found in 1971.

42,400,000:  Acres of BLM land on which wild horses were found in 1971

31,600,000:  Acres of land on which wild horses found today.

26,900,000:  Acres of BLM land on which wild horses are found today.

 Wild horse habitat has decreased by 41% since 1971, including a net loss of 15.5 million acres of BLM land from which wild horses have been eliminated.

FACT 2: About 36% of federally protected wild horses and burros live not free on the range, where they belong, but in a government holding facility.

  • The Bureau of Land Management estimates that 66,976 wild horses and 14,975 burros are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, as of March 1, 2018.
  • As of May 2018, there were 43,886 wild horses and 1,434 burros in government holding facilities (8,827 in short-term holding corrals, 35,850 in long-term holding pastures in the Midwest and 643 in eco-sanctuaries).

FACT 3: The BLM intends to reduce the wild horse and burro population down to the level that existed in 1971 when Congress deemed that they were “fast disappearing” and needed to be protected.  

  • The BLM estimates that there were 25,300 wild horses in 1971 when Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
  • The BLM has set a national “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of just 26,690 wild horses and burros. The agency is scheduling roundups to reduce the current estimated population down to this low number. The national AML would leave about 1 horse or burro for every 1,008 acres managed for them by the Bureau of Land Management.


2,000,000: Number of wild horses that roamed the West at the end of the 19thcentury.

25,300:  Number of wild horses in 1971 when wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed

66,976: Current wild horse population

14,975: Current wild burro population

26,690: BLM target wild horses and burro population

<   70,000:  Number of federally listed, endangered big horn sheep in the West.


FACT 4:  Wild horses and burros are vastly outnumbered by privately owned cattle and sheep on BLM lands. Wild horses are restricted to about 11 percent of BLM-managed lands, which they must share with livestock. Yet even on the small amount of BLM land designated as wild horse habitat, the BLM allocates the majority of forage to private livestock, not wild horses.

  •  The BLM administers about 245 million acres of public lands (more than any other federal agency). Livestock grazing is authorized on 155 million acres of those lands.Wild horses are restricted to 26.9 million acres of BLM land.
  • Authorized livestock use on BLM lands for 2016 was 12 million Animal Unit Months (AUMs). That’s the equivalent of 1 million cow/calf pairs. (1 AUM = 1 horse, 1 cow/calf pair, 5 sheep.) Authorized wild horse use on BLM lands is 320,580 AUMs.

FACT 5: Welfare Ranching is the driving force behind the mass removal of wild horses from public lands. The cattlemen’s lobby wants to maintain access to taxpayer-subsidized, commercial livestock grazing on public lands.

  • The BLM charges ranchers $1.41 per AUM (down from $1.87 in 2017). That compares to a 2016 market rate for private land ranching of about $20 per animal per month.
  • A 2015 Center for Biological Diversity study estimated that the costs to U.S. taxpayers for public lands grazing amounted to more than $1 billion over a decade.

FACT 6: A cost-effective and humane alternative to roundup & removal is available, but it is not being adequately implemented by the BLM.

  • PZP fertility control has been shown to be effective and safe. A non-hormonal vaccine, it has minimal effects on behavior.
  • A 2013 economic model published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine found that the BLM could attain its management goals within 12 years using fertility control. The study found that using fertility control could save $8 million at one Herd Management Area alone. “It stands to reason that such an approach could result in a cost-savings of tens of millions of dollars” if PZP were used throughout BLM lands, rather than removing wild horses from public lands and placing them in holding facilities.
  • BLM is underutilizing PZP and continuing the large-scale and fiscally unsustainable removal of wild horses from public lands in the West. Since 2007, BLM has never spent more than 3.94% of its annual Wild Horse and Burro Program budget allocation on fertility control vaccines that have long been proven safe and effective.
  • In 2016, BLM used about 67% of it’s the Wild Horse and Burro Program budget spent to roundup, remove and stockpile horses compared to 0.61% spent on fertility control to manage horses on the range.
  • BLM’s failure to implement PZP adequately resulted in 46,431 wild horses and burros warehoused in government holding facilities, costing taxpayers about $47.5 million annually to house, feed and care for them in 2017.


  • 25,636:  Number of wild horses removed from the range 2012-17
  • 16,089:  Number of wild horses and burros adopted through BLM adoption program 2012-17
  • 1,615:  Number of wild horses sold by BLM 2012-17
  • 8,827:  Number of wild horses and burros in short-term holding facilities as of July 2018
  • 35,850:  Number of wild horses and burros in long-term holding facilities as of July 2018
  • 643: Number of wild horses in eco-sanctuaries as of July 2018
  • 45,320: Total number of wild horses and burros in holding facilities as of July 2018


  •  $2.07: Per day per horse cost in long-term holding in FY2017
  •  $5.03:Per day per horse cost in short-term holding in FY2017
  •  $133,225: Per day cost to taxpayers to maintain horses in holding facilities in in FY 2017


  • $24.35 million: Long-term holding costs
  • $24.28 million:Short-term holding costs
  • $4.22 million: Roundup/Removal
  • $144,551: Fertility control (not including gather costs)
  • $7.91 million: Adoption, sales and compliance inspections
  • $21.33 million: Other costs, including monitoring HMAs, construct / maintain range projects
  • $80.555 million:Total FY 2017 appropriations
  • $82.567 million:Total FY 2017 expenditures

FACT 7: The threat of slaughter for human consumption is a danger that is ever-present for mustangs that have been rounded up and removed from the range.

  • An average of 149,559 horses were trucked to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada annually from 2008-16, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The terror, trauma and pain that horses endure in transport to slaughter houses and on the slaughter floor – where they have been documented to have their throats cut while they are fully conscious – is the ultimate betrayal of these animals who are our companions and partners in competition, work and recreation. They are the free-roaming descendants of the horses we rode in on.
  • The foreign market for horsemeat is driving the sale of U.S. horses for slaughter. Americans do not eat horsemeat.
  • Under a 2004 sale authority law, commonly called the “Burns Amendment,” BLM is directed to sell “without limitation” wild horses age 10 and older or younger horses who have not been adopted after three tries. BLM has sold more than 5,900 wild horses and burros since 2005. The 4,100 sold between 2005 and 2010 were sold for an average of just $17 apiece.
  • Although it is the BLM’s policy not to sell or send any wild horses or burros to slaughter, truckloads of these “sale authority” horses are sold from long-term holding facilities.
  • The solution to the problem of unwanted horses in the U.S. is not slaughter, but rather responsible breeding and humane euthanasia.

Take Action

Take Action

Call your members of Congress at (202) 225-3121 (to find direct numbers, click here).

Urge your senators to:

* Oppose a new, quietly implemented BLM policy increasing the number of wild horses that can be sold to individuals and the frequency of those sales. This move will only lead to the slaughter of wild horses, something Congress has strongly rejected;

* Stand strong in Conference committee on the Senate’s language protecting wild horses and burros and on defunding horse slaughter, if the senator sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee (click to see a list of members).

For senators not on the Senate Appropriations Committee: Ask them to tell members of the Conference committee that constituents do not want them to waiver either on protecting wild horses or defunding horse slaughter.

* Support the SAFE Act (S. 1706) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter.

Urge your congressional representative to:

* Oppose a new, quietly implemented BLM increasing the number of wild horses that can be sold to individuals and the frequency of those sales. This move will only lead to the slaughter of wild horses, something Congress has strongly rejected;

* Oppose the House version of the FY19 Interior Appropriations bill because it contains an amendment allowing for the mass sterilization of wild horses and burros; instead, ask your representative to support Senate language on wild horses being considered by the House and Senate Conference committee, instead;

* Oppose the FY19 Agriculture Appropriations bill because it does not include the horse slaughter inspection defund language; instead, ask your representative to support the Senate language being considered by the House and Senate Conference committee, instead;

* Support the SAFE Act (H.R. 113) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter;

* Support the Horse Transportation Safety Act (H.R. 4040) to ban hauling horses on double-deck trailers under all circumstances.

Sign RTF’s Wild on the Range petition, calling for humane management solutions.

Donate to RTF’s Wild Horse Defense Fund, which fuels our advocacy, lobbying and selective litigation efforts.

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