BLM’s Final Solution for the Wild Horses and Burros

Information provided courtesy of Valerie James-Patton and Equine Welfare Alliance 

Internal documents from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shed light on the agency’s motives and plans for the wild horses and burros.

Two reports issued by the BLM for internal use only, The Herd Management Option Plans from October 2008, and the Team Conference Calls Report from July-September 2008 contain astonishing proposals to manipulate the WFRHBA and NEPA, eliminate the wild horses and burros altogether from the wild, and until they can be euthanized or sold most likely for slaughter, sterilize them and place them in feedlots paid for by rescue organizations duped into thinking the animals are in private "preserves".  

BLM is the agency within the U.S. Department of Interior that is tasked with protecting the wild horses and burros pursuant to the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, 16 U.S.C. §1331 et seq. (WFRHBA) as free roaming animals in their historic herd areas and designated ranges. "All management activities are to be at the minimal feasible level." 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1333. Wild horses are not to be subject to "capture, "harassment" or "death". 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1331

BLM team members involved in these discussions included Jim Stratton, Rob Jeffers, Al Kane, DVM; Jim Johnson, John Neil, Lili Thomas, Gus Ward, Alan Shepherd, Bud Cribley, and Don Glenn.

These reports are almost certainly the precursor to BLM’s current proposal issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in October, 2009. The plan as announced is essentially to:

(1) work with non-profits and wild horse enthusiasts to create "preserves" in the Midwest or east, an idea that runs counter to the  WFRHBA mandate to maintain free-roaming behavior and avoid zoolike settings for these wild animals,

(2) designate additional ranges that under WFRHBA are to be "devoted principally" to the wild horses and burros, but under BLM they have been afforded the same or even less preference than grazing cattle and sheep and other uses of the land, and

(3) work to restore the "sustainability" of herds and public lands which, translated  from BLM-speak, means more slaughter and euthanasia of wild horses and burros and extinction of the herds through continued removal of  wild horses from their herd areas and ranges, aggressive "fertility control", monitoring of sex ratios, and introduction of non-reproducing herds. 

This proposal is floating around Congress and the Obama Administration. There has been no indication there will be a hearing or any changes made to the laws or authorization of appropriations that may be necessary to implement the plan. The full plan has never even been made generally available to the public.

Indeed, BLM has already begun to implement this plan.  The removal or gather schedules for 2009-2010 are aggressive, and BLM has shown no signs of reconsidering these plans despite increasing calls for a moratorium on gathers.  Indeed, just a couple of days ago, BLM announced plans to roundup 1,977 wild horses and remove 1,506 from the Antelope Complex in Nevada. The BLM has yet to issue the Environmental Assessment for this action.

And, earlier during the first week in December, without any public announcement, BLM rounded up 217 wild horses on the Nevada-California border. This gather of what are known as the Buckhorn wild horses had been scheduled for the summer, 2010. The roundup was conducted in secret, and it is not known how many horses were injured or killed or what happened to them.

Currently, allegedly "excess" horses, those deemed necessary to remove from designated herd areas or ranges basically because of overpopulation or to "maintain a thriving natural ecological balance", are generally held in short-term (STH) or long-term holding facilities (LTH) on private lands. 16 U.S.C. §§1332, 1333 As of May 31, 2009 there were 8,532 horses and 57 burros in short-term holding facilities that have a total capacity of 15,645 animals. As of that date there were 22,126 horses in long-term holding facilities that have a total capacity of 22,100. The long-term holding facilities are full. BLM claims there are 10,350 excess wild horses and burros that must be removed from herd areas and ranges. Since 2000, BLM has removed more than 74,000 wild horses and burros from the wild, 40% of the population.

wild horse gatherManipulating the WFRHBA

In these 2008 reports BLM employees and consultants discussed placing the wild horses and burros in LTH facilities on public lands by converting grazing rights for cattle. To do this legally, requires changing the status of the horses and burros from wild to titled or owned livestock. The WFRHBA protects wild horses on public lands, meaning they can’t be corralled in LTH there.  BLM team members discussed that to keep the animals in LTH on public lands, they would create non-reproducing herds:  "One could argue that a non-reproductive herd is not self-sustaining. Also refer to [43 CFR 4700.0-6  (c]) which states: "Management activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior." By managing for sterile animals we may be taking away their "free-roaming" behavior by altering the social interactions."  If the animals are no longer “free-roaming", they are not wild and arguably could be considered livestock and kept in LTH on public lands.  

In effect, BLM proposed to manipulate the WFRHBA by actually intentionally destroying herd behavior, free-roaming behavior, which as an agency they are supposed to protect, so that they could get around another provision of WFRHBA to allow the horses to be kept in LTH on public lands.

BLM team members also considered ignoring the WFRHBA prohibition on "relocat[ing] wild free-roaming horses and burros to areas of the public lands where they do not exist" but noted,  "However, a solicitor’s interpretation concludes BLM is not prohibited from moving excess wild horses to LTH areas on public lands because no case law implies such a prohibition. Should BLM elect to move excess horses to LTH areas on public lands, appeals or litigation would be likely and could take years to resolve."

BLM team members discussed that the LTH facilities could be nothing more than feedlots. "BLM (or others? ie horse advocacy groups? would buy livestock permits with the objective of managing the allotments for a non-reproducing herd. Due to trouble finding additional pastures for excess horses, we may need to have feed lots. If the humane organization did take over payment of feeding excess horses they would need to pay for whatever type of facility is available."

Note that BLM’s current plan as described by Interior Secy. Salazar, calls, in part, for humane groups to take over the cost and care of wild horses and burros placed in "preserves" in the midwest and eastern states. "Preserves" is presumably a euphemism for "feed lot". 

In this way, BLM would also manage the animals to extinction. The BLM team member discussed, though, "This alternative may require a change in regulations based on 43 CFR 4700.0-6 (a), which states: "Wild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat."  

Actually, for this plan to be legal, Congress would be required to repeal the WFRHBA requirements that BLM manage wild horses and burros as free-roaming "components" of the public lands at the "minimal feasible level" and avoid "capture", "harassment" and "death". 16 U.S.C. § §1331, 1332, 1333.

Aggressive sterilization and manipulation of herd ratios

Other plans discussed by the BLM team to reduce the wild horse and burro populations included adjusting herd ratios from 50/50 to 70/30 male/female ratios with some of the horses returned to the wild after being gelded and an increased use of PZP, as well as using other unauthorized fertility drugs called Gonacon and SpayVac. 

Team members acknowledged Spayvac was "barely available" for research, let alone approved for use as a contraceptive. 

With PZP the BLM Instruction Memorandum requires field officials to consider using fertility control and justify when it is not used. During a June 15, 2009 meeting the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board noted the liquid the longer term effectiveness of the pelleted form of PZP is unproven. It is also well known that PZP may cause out of season foals.

In the 2008 team reports, BLM team members noted, "This alternative may require a change in regulations based on 43 CFR 4700.0-6 (a), which states: "Wild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat.  …One could argue that a non-reproductive herd is not self-sustaining.  Also refer to (c) which states: "Management activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior." By managing for sterile animals we may be taking away their "free-roaming" behavior by altering the social interactions."

wild horse roundupDespite the clear language of WFRHBA and some of its own regulations, the BLM team asked,  "Do we have an obligation not to affect horse herd behavior?…Does it affect behavior and do we care? Burger stated in the late 80’s that you should aim at a ratio favoring females, but BLM thinks a 50/50 ratio is natural. Would having more stallions change the band structure, will mares and colts be beaten down at water bottlenecks? Since we do not have any evidence [changing the sex ratio] is bad, the BLM should be allowed to do this on a large scale. We do not know if it is bad so should we wait until we know?"

BLM team members discussed options such as filling herd areas with only geldings or sterilizing all mares. BLM also discussed placing wild horses in non-reproducing herds and wanted to look in each state for possible places for these herds.

In one discussion team members proposed it would be easier to "justify" a non-reproducing herd rather than zeroing out herd areas.

The idea was to eliminate a herd management area for every non-reproducing herd area that was created.

The team noted, "When making changes on HMAs (sex ratio, gelding, etc) the implementation would be a trial and error".

BLM knew the aggressive sterilization of mares would mean an increased death rate of at least 10% and admitted that "herd behavior would be out the window". BLM admitted, in effect, these aggressive sterilization plans would not only be potentially dangerous to the wild horses and burros, destructive of their herds and families, but also illegal and ultimately cause their extinction.

Euthanasia and Slaughter

The BLM team’s favorite ideas for eliminating wild horses and burros appear to be euthanasia preferably in the field and also by reducing restrictions on sales.

The team considered, "How many could be euthanized at a gather without having a NEPA?" The BLM is required by National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., to prepare Environmental Assessments or EAs or, if indicated, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for any proposed changes to public lands that may have a significant environmental impact.  The law directs the agency to identify environmental concerns, consider alternatives including no action at all and take a "hard look" at the problem and minimize significant environmental impact. A significant environmental impact includes actions that are likely to be highly controversial or have uncertain effects on the quality of our lives and that affect cultural and historical resources. 40 C.F.R. §1508.27(b).)

In other words, BLM hoped to be able to kill as many wild horses and burros in the field as possible without implicating NEPA.

BLM also discussed drastically reducing the time wild horses and burros are available for adoption or sale before they would then be euthanized.

The team observed, "People willing to put down healthy horses at gather sites could be a problem….Having vets put down healthy horses at preparation facilities could be a problem…Provide counseling due to stress for employees and contractors that have to euthanize healthy horses".

Team members also asked how many more horses could be euthanized without affecting disposal practices. It was noted that Reno Rendering, for example, "will take as many as could be sent". They checked on the capacity of other rendering plants to take more wild horses.

One team member questioned, ""Are we euthanizing horses to save money to complete gathers?"

Under the WFRHBA,  "[a]ny excess animal or the remains of an excess animal shall be sold if–
  (A) the excess animal is more than 10 years of age; or
  (B) the excess animal has been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times."
Currently, a wild horse or burro must be offered for adoption at 3 specific satellite or adoption events before qualifying for sale under subsection (B). Wild horses and burros sold in this way are called 3 strikes horses. Animals sold under this provision lose the protections of the WFRHBA. 16 U.S.C. §1333(e).

Adopters can take possession of 4 wild horses or burros at a time and title is not transferred for at least one year. 16 U.S.C. §1333(c) Only then do the wild horses or burros lose the protections of WFRHBA.

wild horse sent to slaughterThe team notes indicate, "The team needs to address selling horses without limitation….We need to make horses easier to [sell] by changing our policy on the criteria for what constitutes a three strikes horse."

The team discussed selling eligible horses at the gather site.

The team discussed that a horse would get a "strike" after each adoption event and also each 30 day period where a facility is open to the public by walk up or by appointment. In that way, BLM could say the horse had been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times for a period of 30 days, even if no one ever even looked at the horse let alone considered the animal for adoption. After the third 30 day period of unsuccessful adoption offers, the horse would be euthanized on day 31.

A note from a team member states, "Sally had an e-mail from a person in Canada who wants 10,000 horses that he would slaughter the horses and send them to a third world country.  Don is going to send the email….Making horses easier to sale by changing policy on the criteria for what constitutes a 3 strike horse, which could be horses that have been in facility for 90 days or 3 weeks. Jim said he has a demand for horses going to Denmark, but they are having a problem getting titled horses."

Another note advises, "Address the need for congress to change the adoption law and allow instant title."

Notes from a June 15, 2009 Wild Horse and Burros Advisory Board meeting indicate "that BLM [should]advertise and market sale eligible animals (with the intent clause) in foreign countries with known good homes by offering "select sales" for sale eligible animals 11 years of age and over, and for younger animals that have been offered for adoption three times during a 90 day period and that BLM continue to explore opportunities to foster foreign aid by providing sale eligible animals (with the intent clause) to foreign countries for agricultural (nonfood) use."

Only BLM would call a slaughter house a "known good home". The BLM is obviously in contact with kill buyers, those that buy horses and transport and sell them to slaughter houses. Despite the mandate of the WFRHBA, BLM, the agency charged with protecting wild horses and burros as free roaming components of the public lands at the "minimal feasible level" is clearly attempting to smooth the way for their slaughter.  

During its discussions in the past year BLM considered ways to keep the public away from round ups and the killing and sales of healthy horses and burros and planned to brand protests as "eco-terrorism".  This was all to be done in secret. Unless Congress or the courts step up and stop this rogue agency, it looks like BLM’s plan may succeed.

Go here for information about the WFRHBA and how BLM has eroded the protections for the wild horses and burros

Go here to find out how you can join the call for a moratorium on BLM roundups of wild horses and burros.

11 thoughts on “BLM’s Final Solution for the Wild Horses and Burros”

  1.  From Eileen O’Connor: 

    You mention that the Salazar plan is apparently already being implemented although details have not been made available to the public and there have been no Congressional hearings.

    This particular detail really bugs me.  Below is a link to Alan Shepherd’s "NV WH&B Strategy Update" that he presented at a November 19-20 Nevada "Tri-Rac (Resource Advisory Council)" meeting in Elko.  You may have seen this already–Sally Summers sent something around on December 3 or 4.  

    I think this shows that either the DOI/BLM got ahead of itself or they already have sign off by Senator Reid and other "key" people in Congress.

    When Salazar sent his letter to Senator Reid in October, I interpreted it to say "Here is a proposal for your consideration.  If Congress agrees, we will look together at legislative changes that may be required to implement it.  Then, together we will implement it."  

    Shepherd’s update, however, seems to say "Here is the proposal.  It’s as good as a done deal and this is as detailed as we are going to get.  Our task now is to convince the public this is what they want and to find the best ways through "key" people in Congress to amend the existing law to allow it to happen legally.  In the meantime, we are rolling it out as if it is already the law of the land."  

    The update also says: BLM to discuss with Congress and other  stakeholders how best [sic] comply with the Act or amend it for compliance.  

    Interesting that the BLM puts Congress on the same level as "other stakeholders."  That is not even close to what I learned in my Civics class (Congress makes the law, the Executive implements it, the Courts interpret it).  Is Congress now just another stakeholder, along with ranchers, energy companies and trophy hunters? 

    At any rate, I think this may be the way the BLM interprets involving the public and providing details–through these RAC groups–and that undisclosed "ongoing discussions with key" people in Congress are the substitute for any hearings.  I don’t think they plan to do more than this (or think they need to do more).



  2. The BLM has delted or made not available any info for adopting the wild horses. What a sad situation. Many people need to ban together and help these poor helpless animals. If all horse enthusiasts agree to take on one wild horse, we could manage to save so many of them. I’m willing to take one. I went to the website to see how to do so, and it’s info is unavailable. So, more resources need to be made to the public to get the horses out of the BLM hands.

    I’ll keep looking and trying to find more info on the internet about adopting one today.

    If we horse enthusiasts start using more wild horses for sports people are interested in, perhaps more people will want wild horses. Like 3 day eventing, schooling shows, open breed shows, long distance racing, etc…

  3. I just wanted to comment on your statement the BLM provides no adoption information on the internet. I’m not sure where you are looking but here’s a link to the info: This link will take you to the home page and from there you can view the internet adoption information w/pictures, walk-up adoption information, scheduled adoption events, print adoption applications, view adoption requirements and a host of other information.

    You have to have your browser security set up correctly to view these secure web pages. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, and make sure you have SSL and TSL checked under security.

    If we want to be taken seriously by the Government and the BLM, we need to make sure we have our facts straight or we end up sounding like a bunch of emotional fanatics rather than a responsible group of people trying to protect our Nation’s heritage, the Mustang!

  4. Thank you for your hard work to save our wild horses- You at Animal Law Coalition are heros.

    Slaughterhouse Bob Abbey & his partners in crime at the BLM must be stopped. The BLMS GENOCIDE AND TORTURE OF OUR BELOVED WILD HORSES is a betrayal of the American people and BLM most be stopped and those responsible need to be held accountable,

  5. These are sick, sick people at the BLM! Manipulating the 1971 law in tortured ways, having group meetings about deciding the best place to euthanize all the horses without causing an environmental hazard, calling a slaughter house a “known good home” – someone needs to challenge the mental health of these people, and, as a retired high school counselor, I think I have the professional credentials to make that statement! I wonder, seeing that all these ideas were developed and discussed prior to the launching of the lawsuit by In Defense of Animals, if these individuals will not begin to dimly recognize how unacceptable and inappropriate their ideas appear to others on the outside looking in. I would be interested in hearing Laura Allen’s opinion on the effect the presence of an on going law suit may have on all parties, and I would extend that to include those in Congress and those in the Executive Branch who would be party to such ideas. Shining a spotlight on the whole matter, and certainly that is what the lawsuit will do, should change behavior toward a more socially acceptable norm. I truly believe that every one of the people named as part of the BLM in this report should be asked to resign immediately! The wild horses and burros, bless them, are in the hands of people with criminal intent and sick minds, as the documents quoted above clearly show.

  6. a lot of the treatment of the horses not only is coming from the present administration but goes back to the prior president when republician senator burns of montana wrote a rider into a bill unknown to the rest of congress and the prior president signed it so the slaughter was oked in 2004 by bush and the present administration continutes to carry it out


    Attached is my position on the BLM mustang eradication agenda.

    I would like your suggestions and directions regarding this effort. Some of the names that I got from the C.B.S.

    program that may be involved in the conspiracy:
    Ken Salazar – Dept. of Interior Director
    Don Glenn – Director, Wild Horse and Burro Program
    Bob Abbey – NV BLM Director 2003
    Juan Palma – M LV office Director 2008
    Hillerie Patton – LV office BLM 2009
    Alan Sheppard – NV BLM Wild Horse Director
    Susie Stokke – NV BLM Wild Horse Director

    John Phillips – BLM Wild Horse and Burro Spec ialist
    Nick Illia – Falon property manager
    Allan Sheppard – NV BLM Wild Horse Director

    I called Dina Titus’s Las Vegas office and asked who is the police agency that a criminal complaint would be filed

    and Tim suggested the Attorney General of the United States as the chief law enforcement agency.When I called them

    they referred me to the F.B.I. ( who has a local office in Las Vegas)
    I will not file right away as I want to hear from others and see what support I may be able to generate first as I

    am only going to get one shot at it. Please consider and communicate your opinions.

    Thank you,

    Marty Koppel

    American Patriot Private Press – March 2010 – Commentary

    It was a program on Las Vegas’ Channel 8 (CBS) that really focused attention on the horrific, barbaric, inhumane treatment of the wild horses and mustangs by the BLM, that prompts this issue of A.P.P.P.
    There was a federal law (92-195) The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and as amended in 1976 and 1978 which lists the proper treatment of that wild horses and burros originally managed on 303 herd acres and comprising of 47 million acres of public land. Instead the B.L.M. has reduced the herd acres and mustangs by one-half, with six states having lost their entire population.
    These mustangs are a public treasure protected by federal law on public lands administered by the BLM, a federal agency. It is the position of the APPP that the killing, kidnapping and imprisonment of this national treasure, in wanton disregard of federal law by members of a government agency, is a criminal conspiracy of monumental proportions and deserves severe criminal prosecution, even more so because the reason for the criminal conspiracy can be traced to the cattle industry which seemingly has infiltrated the BLM and has control of that federal agency. For proof of the claim of criminal conspiracy, one only needs to view the TV show “Stampede to Oblivion” by reporter George Knapp as shown on C.B.S Las Vegas channel 8 ( The wild horses are chased by helicopter till many die, pregnant mares abort, many young die, there is even a report of a mustang being run over rough terrain till his hooves fell off. Wild horse communities that have existed for centuries are destroyed and lost forever. How inhumane have the B.L.M. officials become?
    Now there may be some that are not as concerned about the decimation of the wild mustangs as many of us are. If so, consider this, the chasing by helicopter and imprisonment of these mustangs has already cost the American public millions of dollars. Our understanding is that against the wishes of the American public that fully one-half of the BLM budget is wasted on this effort and the extremely costly imprisonment of the mustangs in BLM holding facilities that will be ongoing year by year. In addition, after the horses are removed from the range, there are reports of raging wild fires due to the build up of brush the horses used to eat. The whole situation is complete insanity to meet the perverse agenda of the beef industry. The waste of public money is inexcusable, the American citizens do not need these types of costly expenditures with the financial hardships that we now face. In essence, the American public is being made to support the beef industry business through our taxes and our land, and the loss of a national treasure by the move to exterminate the wild mustangs.
    The APPP position is that the bottom line is this whole situation is criminal and should be handled accordingly by holding BLM officials and others that are involved in this criminal conspiracy, criminally accountable.

    Information sources: * American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
    *In Defense of Animals *”Stampede to Oblivion”, CBS [also news]

  8. Burns,at the request of Harry Reid, surreptitiously added this rider and explained his actions in an interview with ‘Horseback’ magazine previously posted on this site:

    “BURNS: Well, [Sen.] Harry Reid came to me and said, ‘I’ve got a problem in Nevada.’ And I said I said ‘What kind of a problem do you have?’ because we don’t have a problem up in Montana.

    HORSEBACK: So what happened then?

    BURNS: So he and I, up in his office, got together and we crafted that amendment because they’ve really got that problem of over grazing down there. That’s how that came about.

    HORSEBACK: It was actually Reid’s idea, huh?

    BURNS: Yeah, well it was his problem. I just helped him solve it, that’s all.”

    This is the same Conrad Burns who lobbies on behalf of the AQHA to reopen US horse slaughter facilities.


  9. Dear Ms Allen,

    I want to thank you for your tireless dedication and work, I mean it in the truest sense. When it comes to the Federal level, it is hard to know what to do, the government positions itself in a way that makes it nearly impenetrable, and all the more insidious. But there has to be something that can be done. Is there any kind of lawsuit that an individual citizen(s) can bring against the Interior Department/BLM? If yes, what? I would do everything in power to bring one myself if it is an option. If there is any way, could someone contact me?

    Thank you again. .

    With Much Gratitude
    P. Austin

  10. Is this the way America treats it’s legacy? Where would this country be without the Mustang? Is this okay with everyone, we just go about our daily life’s, there just animals? God help us, because we have become the animals!

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