Abstract for: The Challenge of Managing Wild Horses in the United States

Though not native, wild horses and burros (WHBs) are an icon of American culture and identity. In response to the early exploitation of WHBs the United States Congress passed the 1971 “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act” to provide for their protection and management on public lands. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has managed wild horses along with other priorities across 177 Herd Management Areas (11 million ha) of mostly arid land. Without natural predators, wild horse populations grow rapidly and herds will outcompete other species before they begin to suffer from dehydration or starvation. The public doesn’t want to see this suffering, nor do they support culling or euthanasia. To maintain animals at a sustainable level BLM has one main tool, physical removal. WHBs are then kept in corrals, put up for adoption or sent to long term pastures. BLM has not been able to keep up with the population and today there are an estimated 95,114 WHBs (3.5x target) and 70% of BLM’s budget supports over 85 thousand WHBs in corrals and pastures. I am building an explanatory model that can help to better understand BLM’s ability to manage WHBs and create a sustainable program.