• Abi Kroupa

America's Wild Horse and Burro Controversy

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

A recent article popped up on my Facebook feed about “America’s most famous will horse.” Picasso, the senior stallion is believed to be approximately 30 years old and lives in the Sand Wash Basin area of Colorado. Picasso has become a local icon for many wild mustang fans. There is a Facebook page specifically dedicated to the Wild Horses of Sand Wash Basin, which tracks the bands of wild horses in that area. Picasso was captured by the amazing wildlife photographer, Scott Wilson – WilsonAxpe Photography. Scott currently has his “Picasso” works on exhibition at the Robert Anderson Gallery located in Denver, Colorado. I appreciate artists like Scott who are not only tremendously talented, but who are able to use their skills to help bring awareness to one of America’s critically under recognized iconic animals. 

In 1971, Congress unanimously passed the “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act,” declaring these animals to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”. Only one other species has ever received this level of federal protection, the American Bald Eagle.

The Bureau of Land Management manages the wild horse and burro program which was setup to protect America’s wild horses and burros that roam over 26.9 million acres of public land across 10 Western states. The BLM seeks to maintain the same population levels that congress protected in 1971 of 27,000 animals. 

According to the BLM, this population level is referred to as an “appropriate management level.” As of March 2016, there were approximately 75,000 horses and burros on public lands and an additional 45,000 in government holding pens. 

Under the WH&B Act’s protection, wild horse and burro populations expanded and rangeland managers became concerned that the animals would overgraze and damage the land. In an attempt to control wild horse and burro population, The BLM came up with a system where they use low flying helicopters to round-up wild horses and burros into government holding pens. Since 1971, more than 235,000 wild horses and burros have been adopted out to the public.

Unfortunately, over recent years, there has been a decline in adoptions from about 8,000 per year to 2,500 per year. With a limited number of adopters, government holding pens continue to become overpopulated. For the BLM euthanasia and slaughter for human or pet consumption aren’t attractive options either.

“Wild horse management has been controversial ever since the 1971 act was passed to protect the horses,” said Bob Garrot, director of the Fish and Wildlife Ecology and Management Program at Montana State University, “Before, they were feral livestock and anyone could go out, gather them, do whatever they wanted. Since the act was passed, management of the horses has been … I don’t want to say dysfunctional, but we don’t have and have never had a sustainable management plan.”

Interested in learning more about America’s Wild Horse and Burro controversy? Check out these links below:

Wild Horses, Wilder Controversy


How can you help? Donate to the American Wild Horse Campaign