Dakota Farmer

BLM intervention helps wild horses during drought

Nebraska facility cares for wild horses waiting to be adopted as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Sarah McNaughton

January 6, 2022

2 Min Read
Horses in pasture
CONSERVATION: The Bureau of Land Management gathers wild horses for adoption to keep the animals and rangeland healthy during a drought.Mark Newman/Getty Images

Many areas were affected by drought during 2021, which can cause harm to more than just production agriculture. For those working with wildlife and conservation, the drought conditions changed their operations. Joe Stratton from the Elm Creek Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Nebraska says he’s seen an increase of horses being brought through his facility.

“We work closely with the national program, so the drought we’re seeing in Nebraska is affecting the West, too,” he says.

His facility serves as a holding area for wild horses gathered in the West on their way to get adopted across the country. “Almost all of the gathers that have happened this summer have been due to drought with a lack of food or water available, and we have an overpopulation of 70,000 horses on the range,” Stratton says.

Stratton’s ranch works with the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, which works to manage a healthy wild horse population on public rangelands. Excess wild horses and burros are gathered on the range and moved to facilities like Stratton’s to be adopted into private care.

While many of these wild horses are gathered to be adopted, some are released back or put into pasture programs for the health of the animal. “If it’s an emergency gather, we’re trying to remove these animals to help save as many as we can without them being affected by the drought,” he says. “Older horses are sent into a pasture program where they’re able to be fed the rest of their lives. Younger horses are put into our adoption program, and we try to get as many as we can into homes.”

Reality of wild horse populations

Stratton says the gathers are vital to the horses’ survival. “A lot of people who see wild horse gathers are shocked as to why anyone would take these beautiful wild horses and get them adopted. But without the water sources, the land doesn’t produce enough food and water, and they’re overpopulated,” he says. “It’s dry on a normal year, but when there’s a drought also, it’s just not good for them on the range.”

Stratton’s facility is one of many from across the western U.S. that hosts wild horse adoption events. “We used to do adoptions right out of the facility, but with COVID, we don’t have enough staff, so those with interest can attend one of our adoption events,” he says.

Requirements to adopt one of the BLM animals includes:

  • providing a facility for the animal

  • having no convictions of inhumane treatment to animals

  • keeping adopted animal in U.S. until titled on its one-year anniversary

You can find more adoption events and information at the BLM website.

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture communications, along with minors in animal science and Extension education. She is working on completing her master’s degree in Extension education and youth development, also at NDSU. In her undergraduate program, she discovered a love for the agriculture industry and the people who work in it through her courses and involvement in professional and student organizations.

After graduating college, Sarah worked at KFGO Radio out of Fargo, N.D., as a farm and ranch reporter. She covered agriculture and agribusiness news for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Most recently she was a 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D., teaching, coordinating and facilitating youth programming in various project areas.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, serving on the executive board for North Dakota Agri-Women, and as a member in American Agri-Women, Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, enjoys running with her cattle dog Ripley, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

Sarah is originally from Grand Forks, N.D., and currently resides in Fargo.

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