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In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (PL 92-195). This law recognized the horses and burros as a "*recognized component"* of the public land environment. This meant that wild horses and burros now had a legal right to live on the public
lands. The law confined the horses and burros to lands where they were living on in 1971. The BLM calls these areas HMAs.
The areas where feral horse and burros live under the protection on the "Act", Herd Management Areas (HMAs).
Some are as small as the Lakeridge HMA in Oregon which has 2,720 acres and others as large as the Salt Wells Creek HMA in Wyoming which has 901,960 acres.
The BLM maintains that scientific data doesn’t agree on what a "viable" number is for a herd population. They argue that herds as small as 50 can be genetically viable as long as there are more “older” “breeding” individuals.
According to Dr. Gus Cothran of University of Kentucky , who is the foremost authority on genetic markers and genetic variation of wild herds, he stated that he feels a minimum of one hundred fifty (150) to two hundred (200) horses of various ages must be maintained to protect genetic diversity. He clarifies this by saying that this number will vary from herd to herd. The best way to determine the number of horses needed for a viable herd is to do a genetic analysis of the herd first and then compare the genetic variation in the population. With this information a specific number can be determined which establishes the how many are needed to maintain generic variation
*Note:* This is an area of disagreement between the BLM and the Wild Horse and Burro Advocacy Groups. We argue, that according to the laws protecting wild horses and burros (whb), these animals may only be removed when there is an overpopulation which are considered excess to maintaining a *thriving ecological balance.*
There is no single or specific description for thriving ecological balance. There are some measurable and inter-related characteristics which are common to areas when ecological balance has
been established. A thriving ecological balance requires that wild horses and burros and other animals on the HMA such as privately owned cattle and native wildlife, be in good health and reproducing at a rate
that sustains the population, the key vegetative species are able to maintain their composition, production, and reproduction, the soil resources are being protected, maintained or improved, an a sufficient
amount of good quality water is available to the animals. The number of animals which can live on an HMA while maintaining a thriving ecological balance is called an *AML.*
A vegetative community is all plants including grasses, forbs, bushes and trees within a specific area.
AML stands for *appropriate management level. *The AML is the number which is the midpoint between the upper and the lower population level of horses or burros which can live on an HMA while maintaining a thriving ecological balance.
The AML is determined through the *land use planning process* or in the *HMAP* and must meet the objectives of achieving and maintaining healthy populations and a thriving ecological balance and *multiple-use* of the HMA. Each HMA must have a resource inventory and monitoring information to determine what the AML is.
Each government agency that manages public lands has its own name for the land use planning process. The BLM calls this the Resource Management Planning Process.
An HMAP is a Herd Management Area Plan.
Multiple use is all the activities which the land is used for including recreational uses, mining, WH & B, grazing, etc.
What if one year is a very dry and the BLM has to take a higher number of horses or burros off the HMA and the number of animals remaining is below the AML?
Temporary population adjustments in response to extraordinary circumstances, natural disasters, and the natural variation in habitat components, unplanned
livestock and WH&B population adjustments may be needed occasionally to maintain the ecological balance. Temporary population adjustments in response to these factors do not establish a new AML.
We have a chart available on the site that offers that information. Visit it by clicking here.
Wild horses and burros exist on National Park Service lands, Department of Defense lands, U.S. Forestry lands, lands managed by individual states, and on private lands including several Native American Reservations. No one knows exactly how many horses and burros live on these lands in total.
The percentage of mares that foal each year and the survival rate of the foals per year depends on the HMA and environmental conditions such as drought and available forage. The BLM claims that the reproduction rate is about 20-24% per year. But some years that reproduction rate may be 5% or less. This does not take into consideration that although a foal is born it may not survive to adulthood.
Does the BLM have a publication that explains the characteristics of each HMA and the horses on them?
No. Although most HMAs have HMAP, many are out of date. Few studies have been done on the genetic diversity or physical characteristics of horses on specific HMAs. Our chart on herd characteristics has the most information in a single place.
Yes, cattle and sheep are allowed to graze on HMAs when the owners are issued *grazing permits.
Grazing permits are typically issued for ten years to individuals or corporations that are in the livestock business. These permits are for certain "privileges or preferences" to graze within
designated areas within public lands (called grazing *allotments*) with their livestock (usually sheep or cattle). These permits are attached to "base property" (typically their home ranch) and can be transferred from
one base property to another, or individuals can acquire these privileges by buying the base property. These privileges are routinely renewed, providing the operator (rancher) has complied with BLM rules and regulations.
The public land that is used by individuals or corporations to graze privately owned cattle or sheep, regulated by the number of AUMs allowed.
Unfortunately, the BLM does not have a document that shows the overview of the number of cattle and sheep on public lands managed by the BLM.
If an HMA is overgrazed, and there is not enough forage or not enough water, how does the BLM decide whether cattle, sheep, horses or burros are removed and how many of each?
The decision on whether cattle, sheep, horses or burros are removed and how many is determined by which one is doing the most damage as shown by the BLM Specialist's studies.
The present school of thought in the Range Management field determines that a Animal Unit Month (AUM) is the amount of forage needed to sustain a 1000 pound cow for one month. This equates to approximately 25 pounds of air dried forage (2.5 lbs of forage per 100 lbs bodyweight).
Based on this information, conversions for other kinds and classes of livestock and wildlife have been developed. The conversion factor for a mature horse is generally accepted to be 1.25 AUMs. Of course there are variations in horses also. Wild horses, since they are generally smaller that domestic horses, would generally have a conversion factor of 1 to 1.
The BLM states on their website: " One concern by WH&B groups is that the WH&B is an endangered species because there are less that 30,000 of them left. There are many reasons why they aren't endangered. Two of the more important ones is that WH&B's do not have a problem with reproduction, the herds increase by 15-20% per year, meaning that the population can double in size every 3-4 years. The second is that as a species there are millions of them domesticated by man, selected animals could easily be turned out, and the herds would reestablish very quickly. Perhaps a concern should be the disappearance of particular historic herds. Herds of predominantly draft horses are nearly gone because of gate cut techniques (bigger and slower horses get caught first.) Herds exhibiting Spanish bloodlines are being managed as such, but there is resistance to intensive management of wild horses." Do you feel this is accurate?
Unfortunately, this illustrates a clear lack of understanding of the unique characteristics of feral horses. One of the reasons these horses make such great trained animals is because of the herd bonding
which develops from their birth and interaction with the band. This is not something that is "learned" by simply taking domestic horses and turning them loose on HMAs. It takes many generations to develop this.
It also fails to take into consideration that many of the HMAs have bands of horses which show genetic markers which are not replaceable by simply turning out domestic horses.
*From the BLM Website:* We have a policy in effect that in essence says that only horses younger than 10 may be removed and placed into the
adoption program. This means that we gather many horses, remove only those adoptable horses under 10, and then turn the older and unadoptable horses back on the range.
*Basically two methods are used *Selective Removal *and *Gate Cut*.
The current removal techniques not only interfere with the genetic pool and herd dynamics when a large number of older mares (possibly not reproducing) and older studs are returned to the HMA but causes degeneration of the herd.
It is cost effective in the long run, as seen by the high number of older studs who eventually had to be removed from the Nellis Air Force base, and are now in long term holding facilities, which are paid for by the BLM.
*From the BLM Website:*
Some of our WH&B specialists feel that turning back older animals makes the herd vulnerable to catastrophic events and that turning breedable unadoptable animals back on the range will lead to genetic problems in the future.
*From the BLM Website:*
On Gate Cut Removals:
*From the BLM Website:* On site there is one person responsible for deciding exactly which horses are turned back and which ones are placed into the adoption program. It's almost always the"resident" WH&B specialist.