Wild Horses & Burros

Wild Horses & Burros

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The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act directs the BLM (and the U.S. Forest Service) to manage 
wild horse and burro populations to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance. To 
achieve and maintain this balance, the BLM is focused on gathering excess animals from overpopulated 
herds and finding good private care for them through adoptions and sales, while at the same time 
expanding fertility control treatments to slow herd growth. Animals not placed into private care are 
provided space and grassland to roam on BLM-contracted pastures.

BLM created the Wild Horse and Burro Program to implement the Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros 
Act passed by Congress in 1971. The law declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the 
historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and stipulates that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have the 
responsibility to manage and protect herds in their respective jurisdictions within areas where wild 
horses were caught roaming in 1971. This law authorizes the BLM to manage the nation’s public lands
for multiple uses, in accordance with the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The Bureau 
manages wild horses and burros as part of this multiple use mandate

(CAWP) Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program formalizes standard operating procedures surrounding 
animal care and handling; establishes formal training programs in animal welfare for BLM personnel, 
partners, and contractors; and implements internal and external assessments for all activities 
undertaken in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
The BLM provides information to equine sale and auction facilities regarding the illegal sale of untitled 
wild horses and burros. If you observe or have information that a federally protected (untitled) wild 
horse or wild burro has been treated inhumanely or illegally sold to slaughter, please contact the BLM at or call 866-468-7826. 

The population of wild horses and burros roaming public lands managed by BLM remained relatively 
static over the last year. The BLM estimates there were approximately 82, 883 wild horses and burros on 
BLM public lands as of March 1, 2023, which is still about three times what is sustainable and healthy for 
the land and the herds. Managing wild horse and burro population growth on public lands is important 
because wild horses and burros have no predators that can naturally control herd growth in most areas. 
Over a short period of time, wild horse and burro herds can grow large enough to overgraze their habitat 
and degrade important water sources, which can lead to starvation and thirst for the animals and disrupt 
other wildlife. 

Since 2018, the BLM has gathered and removed more than 64,000 wild horses and burros from 
overpopulation herds, which is more than triple what was accomplished in the previous five years. 
Safely gathering and removing animals is the only way to make meaningful reductions in herd size in the 
near-term. Removed animals are offered for adoption to qualified homes, or eventually transferred to a 
contracted pasture for lifetime care. The BLM has made significantly increased the use of fertility 
control vaccines to slow and stabilize herd growth. In Fiscal Year 2022, the BLM treated more animals 
than it has ever treated in one year, and the agency plans to continue focusing on implementing more 
fertility control in herds that are near sustainable levels. 

NRS 569.040 Unlawful to take up or feed estray or feral livestock; enforcement; penalties. 1. Except as 
otherwise provided in subsection 2 NRS 569.040 to 569.130 inclusive, or pursuant to a cooperative 
agreement established pursuant to NRS 569.031 for management, control, placement or disposition of 
estrays and feral livestock, it is unlawful for any person or the person’s employees or agents, other than 
an authorized agent of the Department to: (a) Take up any estray or feral livestock and retain possession 
of it; or (b) Feed any estray or feral livestock. 2. For a first violation of paragraph (b) of subsection 1, a 
person must not be cited or charged criminally but must be informed that it is unlawful to feed an estray 
or feral livestock. 3. For a second or subsequent violation of paragraph (b) of subsection 1, a person is 
guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Feeding horses only draws them out of the range and brings them into 
urban areas. This poses a direct threat to public safety on roads and in neighborhoods. Additionally, like 
any other feral animal living in the wild, if there is not sufficient forage, feral livestock is expected to 
migrate to survive. Horses are atracted to green landscapes, a legal fence per NRS 569.431 may be 
constructed by the landowner around such areas to keep horses out of urban and suburban areas. 
Report illegal feeding call the Animal Industry division at (775) 353-3608.

Located in the high desert of western Nevada, in between Virginia City and Reno, the Virginia Range
horses are legally considered estray/feral livestock because they are not within a BLM herd management 
area therefore these horses fall under NRS Chapter 569.008 “feral” means any formerly domesticated 
livestock or progeny of domesticated livestock which have become wild and running at large upon public 
or private lands in the State of Nevada, and which have no physical signs of domestication. Ther term 
does not include horses or burros that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Government
pursuant to the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. 1331 to 1340, inclusive, and any 
regulations adopted pursuant thereto or any other federal statue or regulation. Per NRS Chapter 
569.0075 “estray” is defined as any domesticated livestock showing signs of domestication, running at 
large upon public or private land, whose owner is unknow. The Nevada Department of Agriculture
gathers and removes or relocates horses when they are a public safety concern. Public safety concerns 
include livestock that are near unfenced roadways and residential areas. Per NRS 569.075 the Nevada 
Department of Agriculture may sell all feral livestock if the Department determines that the sale is 
necessary to facilitate the placement of livestock. Virginia Range horses have been sold at public auction 
since 2013. Any horses removed since then have been adopted by individuals or horse advocacy groups. 
In the rare occurrence they are not adopted, it is possible that horses could be sold at public auction at 
which the NDA has no authority to determine buying outcomes. No general fund money currently is 
allocated for the management of feral or estray livestock. Fees paid by Nevada livestock producers help 
support the NDA’s agricultural enforcement officers, which include activities and equipment associated 
with the Virginia Range horses.

The following federal agencies are responsible for balancing horses and burros with natural resource 
management, biodiversity, national security, and other multiple uses on public lands: 1) U.S. Forest 
Service (USFS)- by authority of the Secretary of Agriculture, is responsible for managing wild horses and 
burros on National Forest System lands. The Forest Service administers 37 wild horse or burro 
territories, to protect wild horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment, or death. 2) U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Services National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) which partners with outside entities to 
manage small herds of horses on a limited number of National Wildlife Refuges. The Service’s 
management actions include horse and burro gathers and adoption programs to move the animals off 
refuge lands in a humane manner, due to concerns that additional population growth would increase 
animal/human health and safety problems and increase damage to the valuable and sensitive refuge 
habitats and cultural resources for which the Refuge is established. 3) Department of Defense (DOD)-
the Department of Defense does not have a role in directly managing horses and burros, the DOD does 
work with BLM personnel to deal with horses and burros that are on DOD lands, like the (USAF) U.S. Air 
Force (Nellis Air Force Base Range in Nevada. In 1962, USAF and BLM personnel worked together to 
create the Nevada Wild Horse Range (NWHR) on the Nellis Air Force Range, giving BLM the responsibility 
of managing it. After the Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed in 1971, BLM was given the responsibility 
of conducting annual censuses of the horses on the NWHR. The horses reached a peak population of 
approximately 10,000 on this land in 1993. In 1989, the Nevada Wild Horse Range Herd Management 
Plan established an AML of 2,000 horses on the NWHR to be maintained by the BLM through horse 
gathers conducted cooperatively with the USAF. 

Nevada Department of Agriculture:

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management: https://www/

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