Wildlife - Wild Horses

One of the most enduring symbols of the American West is the wild horse. So it seems only fitting that half of the wild horses and burros in our country live on Nevada rangelands.

Today, more than 13,600 horses and nearly 1,000 burros make their home on roughly 16 million acres of public land maintained by the BLM. Part of the BLM’s job is to evaluate herd areas to ensure they provide enough food, water and territory to sustain healthy populations. Thanks to their long life spans and hardy constitutions, wild horses and burros can overpopulate an area very quickly. To keep their numbers balanced against the available resources in an area, the BLM gathers hundreds of wild horses and burros every year. They are fed, watered and vaccinated in BLM corral facilities before making them available for adoption. Over 220,000 wild horses and burros have been privately adopted since the program’s 1971 inception, with more than half straight off of Nevada rangeland.

The American history of the horse begins with the exploration of the continent and the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. In later years, as horses and burros escaped or were turned loose from farms, ranches, mines and cavalry, their numbers mounted. By the end of the 19th century, roughly 2 million wild horses and burros were roaming the West. Half a century later (and weighing in at between 800 and 1,000 pounds with an appetite for 20 to 25 pounds of food and 10 gallons of water per day!), the region’s wild horses were considered pests that competed with livestock and other wildlife for water and food and their numbers dwindled as they were wiped out. In 1971, the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted, requiring the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect and manage these living symbols of the Old West.

The BLM and U.S. Forest Service were charged with implementing the act and managing herds on public land with an emphasis on maintaining a “natural ecological balance.” Currently, roundups are the primary method with which the BLM attempts to control population. Once the horses are gathered, they are transported to holding facilities and are prepared for adoption.