Wild Horses: Why the Controversy?

May 17, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

By Jamie Keyes, Utah State University Extension 

The debate that surrounds the management of feral horses is a controversy that encircles the west and its delicate ecosystem. Animal activists fight for the majestic vision of wild horses roaming the rangelands, and claim they are important in American history. Ranchers view the horses as an invasive species consuming the forage and damaging the land. Emotions run high on both sides of the issue.

The Bureau of Land Management periodically rounds up wild horses to help control the population and preserve forage resources. The horses are controlled not only to assist livestock, but also wildlife, recreation and other public land activities. Some groups have expressed concern that horses are rounded up to make it possible to increase livestock numbers.  According to the BLM website, the number of cattle grazing on rangelands has actually decreased since the passage of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. Since 1971, the number of wild horses has grown by 37,700. Growing numbers of horses severely compromises the natural resources of federal lands.  

Rangelands are a major component of the West with the production of livestock and the well-being of wildlife. The BLM has specified boundaries to ensure the grazed rangelands will last for the generations to come. 

To learn more about feral horses visit:

The Cost of Wild Horses

The Past and Present of Wild Horses and Burros

Wild Horse and Burro Present Policies 

Myths and Facts Surrounding Wild Horses

Feral Horses: Appropriate Levels and Actual Levels 

A Mass Media View on Wild Horses

Photo:  Photommo / Foter / CC BY-ND

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.