The Rugged Strength and Beauty of a Living Legend
By Paul McGuire, 
Bureau of Land Management
Few icons of the American West are as potent as wild mustangs running free on the open range. Countless portraits have sought to capture the spirit this majestic breed shares with the land it inhabits – rugged steeds with the strength and beauty born of life between wind and rock, sun and rain.

As defining as this image is for many Americans, many may not know that there was a time – not so long ago – when it was in danger of disappearing.

Since the 1600s, escaped or abandoned wild horses and burros roamed free throughout the West and Southwest. As settlements increased, the animals’ habitat gradually declined, and overpopulation of horses and burros become a serious issue. Many thousands of animals fell to drought, easy predation, and poaching.

Through effective public information campaigns mounted by concerned citizens starting in the 1950s, Congress became aware of the threat. In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which charged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with protecting and controlling wild herds on public lands. This was necessary to protect both the animals and the natural environment, as horses can place great stress on fragile desert ecosystems.

The BLM established more than 200 Herd Management Areas (HMA) in 10 western states. These are areas of public land, varying in size, where viable herds of wild horses and burros were found to exist at the time the law was enacted. For each HMA, the BLM sets an Appropriate Management Level (AML). This is a horse and burro population level that is deemed compatible with other public values and planned uses of the land, such as wildlife habitat, livestock grazing, energy resource development, and public recreation.
When horse and burro populations exceed these levels, the BLM removes excess animals from the land and makes them available to the public for adoption. Currently there are about 31,000 animals on public ranges, 3,000 more than the set AML of 28,000.

The Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program is key to the BLM’s ability to efficiently and humanely reach AML, thereby protecting these ‘living legends.’ Successful adoptions limit the number of animals that must be transferred to long term holding facilities and maintained at taxpayer expense, or sold by law. To date, the BLM has placed more than 211,000 horses and burros in good homes around the country.
The BLM New Mexico State Office in Santa Fe administers the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program for a four-state region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. The adoption crew, based in Moore, Okla., conducts 12 to 15 satellite adoptions per year in cities throughout the region (see schedule of upcoming adoptions). Typically the crew brings 80 to 90 wild horses and burros to a local arena for a three-day adoption event. Most of the animals are fairly young, usually under five years old. Many yearlings are often available.

To qualify to adopt, one must be at least 18, with no record of past animal abuse. In addition, adopters must have specific facilities and may adopt no more than four animals at once. For the first year following adoption, the U.S. Government retains title to the animal. At some point during the first year, a BLM compliance inspector visits the adopter’s home to certify the animal’s well-being. After one year, the adopter may – and is strongly encouraged – to apply for title to the animal. Once title is issued, the animal officially becomes private property.

“This process is mandated by law and is in keeping with BLM’s strong desire to find good homes for these animals,” said New Mexico Wild Horse and Burro Program Manager Bob Mitchell. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous success in Texas and throughout our region. Due in large part to the support of the people of Texas, this American icon endures to this day.”

As the success of the adoption program grows, so does the community of proud adopters. Each year, adopters are invited to participate in a BLM-sponsored horse show conducted as part of an annual Wild Horse and Burro Expo. The event allows adopters to showcase the beauty and versatility of their trained animals. This year’s Expo (the twelfth annual for the New Mexico region) will be held in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 12-15, at the Rose Palace. A full slate of show classes and games is scheduled. Other entertainment and educational events are also planned. And, of course, the public will have an opportunity to adopt a living legend! The entire event is free and open to the public.
To find out more, visit the New Mexico BLM web site or call the national Wild Horse and Burro Program toll free line, 866-4-MUSTANGS.

 Don’t miss the upcoming BLM events:  Oct. 12-15 12 Annual Expo at the Rose Palace, San Antonio, Texas, Nov 2-4 Adoption, Odessa, Texas and Jan. 18-20, 2007 Adoption, Victoria, Texas.

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