The federal Bureau of Land Management announced Aug. 21 that it has selected six organizations and universities in Colorado, Oregon and Utah to receive grants totaling more than $1 million. These grants are aimed at empowering community-level action to support the BLM’s mission of managing and protecting wild horses and burros on public lands.
“We at the BLM are dedicated to fostering collaborate initiatives that ensure the long-term viability and well-being of wild horses and burros throughout the West,” said Holle’ Waddell, Division Chief of the Wild Horse and Burro Program. “These grants signify a significant stride forward in cultivating mutually advantageous partnerships and driving impactful progress toward sustainable management of these iconic animals.”
Editor’s note: The announcement comes amid controversy surrounding federal helicopter roundups of wild horses in Nevada.
Maintaining healthy herd levels
The BLM manages and protects free-roaming wild horses and burros on public lands as required by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Most herds on public lands are located in arid environments and lack natural predators that can control herd growth. As a result, herds grow quickly and can overwhelm the food and water available to them.
Overpopulation can also damage the land and lead to starvation and thirst for wild horses and burros. To protect wild horses and burros and their habitat from overpopulation, the BLM works to maintain herds at healthy levels using a variety of non-lethal management tools, including temporary fertility control vaccines to safely prevent pregnancies, and adoptions of excess animals into private care.
The grants announced Aug. 21 are part of the BLM’s efforts to work with community partners on projects that will benefit wild horses and burros and their habitat, including increasing the use of fertility control to slow herd growth. The latest population estimates revealed that, as of March 1, there were more than 82,000 wild horses and burros on BLM-managed public lands. Though down from a record high in 2020, this population is more than three times the level that is healthy for the herds and their habitat in the long-term.
Projects earmarked for funding
The following projects were selected for grant funding this year after a thorough review of proposals received through a Notice of Funding Opportunity announced in 2022. Future funding will be dependent on annual Congressional appropriations and budget availability. All projects involve close collaboration with the BLM and are required to adhere to the BLM’s policies and regulations concerning the handling of wild horses and burros, when relevant.
- Vale, OR: High Desert Strategies Fertility Control, High Desert Strategies | $468,033.00
This project will include in-depth monitoring, data collection, planning, and application of fertility control vaccines via remote dart delivery in wild horse herds in southeast Oregon. This project will slow population growth, strengthen wild horse herd health, reduce the need for excess animal gathers, improve rangeland health, and enhance upland sage-steppe wildlife habitat.
- Meeker, CO: Piceance Mustangs | $120,620.00
This initiative supports ongoing efforts to manage herd growth through a fertility control darting program. It will also involve improvements to range resources, including running pipe, construction of two new water tanks and refurbishment of a pond used by wild horses in the area. These improvements are aimed at helping to disperse the herd and reduce concentrated impacts in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area.
- Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University | $141,329.00
Project proponents will create a K-12 curriculum for local schools and make it available nationally via Teaching Resources Platform. This includes virtual field trips and educational videos. Content related to biology, behavior, management, ecology and history will communicate the challenges and benefits of managing wild horses and burros as part of the American Western Landscape. Educational content will be paired with a teacher training program and public engagement in Colorado.
- Salt Lake City, UT: American Wild Horse Campaign | $91,865.50
Funding here will support activities first initiated under a volunteer agreement to document, dart horses with a fertility control vaccine and monitor horses and habitat health in the Cedar Mountain Herd Management Area. Project includes collaboration with the livestock permittee to monitor the range and proposed restoration activities.
- Logan, UT: Utah State University Cooperative Extension | $117,340.69
The Healthy Lands and Healthy Horses program is a one- to two-day camp model that provides hands-on, cross-disciplinary experiences about wild horses and burros, wildlife and range management. This camp is conducted by hosting educational experiences on public rangelands as well as virtual camps to increase access across the country.
- Western Desert, UT: Wild Horses of America Foundation | $77,331.11
This project will focus on treating wild horses of the Onaqui Mountain herd with fertility control, with the objective of controlling the herd’s growth rate. An important part of this work is maintaining a database of all the horses in the herd, with the goal of minimizing the need for future gathers and removals as a population control measure.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Its stated mission is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.