America’s mustangs are the descendants of wild horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers and missionaries in the 16th century. Others come from stock that was released or escaped from miners, ranchers, homesteaders and others who settled the West. More than two million wild horses and burros are reported to have roamed the west by the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, competition intensified between wild horses and cattle, sheep, fences, farms, and ranch for the remaining open range. Wild horse population plummeted as tens of thousands of animals were rounded up for use as draft animals, saddle stock, military mounts, food or to reduce competition with domestic livestock for limited forage, water and space. Velma B. Johnston “Wild Horse Annie” (1912-1977) was a tireless pioneer in establishing legislation for the protection of wild horses and burros across the United States. Her efforts were instrumental in the establishment of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act.
By the mid-20th century, domestic markets for pet and chicken feed and European markets for horse meat emerged further reducing the number of wild horses and burros remaining in the West. Public concern escalated in response to the brutal methods used by mustangers to capture and transport wild horses for sale to rendering plants. Horrified by the mustangers’ gruesome practices, Velma Johnston spearheaded a “Pencil War”, a letter writing campaign that generated more letters to congress than any single issue besides the Vietnam War! Thousands of letters were written by school children concerned for the horses welfare.
As populations on western rangelands declined to fewer than 20,000 animals, the Congress of the United States deliberated over the animals’ future and passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act in 1971. The Act placed America’s mustangs and burros under federal jurisdiction, and charged the Department of the interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) with preserving and protecting wild horses and burros as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”
Along with protection and preserving comes the responsibility to keep the land in balance. The BLM is required to maintain animal levels that achieve a “thriving natural ecological balance.” When populations of wild horses and burros along with wildlife and livestock exceed the capacity of their habitat, land health begins to deteriorate. Native vegetation is damaged, encouraging the growth of invasive weeds and reducing the amount of food and water available to support the animals. When the BLM determines that the mustang population exceeds habitat capacity, the excess animals are removed from the range and prepared for adoption to qualified adopters.
Visit Mustang Heritage Foundation for additional resources.
History of Mustangs
Future of mustangs
wild horses off range in
short & Long Term Holding
approx, number of wild horses on range in 10 western states in 2019
number of horses on range above appropriate management levels in 2019
total appropriate management level
excess population of wild horses on and off range as of 2019
There is no shortage of controversy surrounding the wild horse dilemma. As the concept of shared use on public lands is core to the dilemma, we at Jackalope Acres stand by a solution centered on range land health. We recognize that in our modern world mustang herd management is necessary and we do not support a hands off approach to population management. We support shared use that prioritizes wildlife while still making space for mustangs, recreation, and ranching.
With populations on the range now tipping the scale at 100,000 horses and burros the carrying capacity of most herd management areas was surpassed long ago. Mustang and burro populations in many herd management areas are not sustainable without human intervention of food and water provision. The BLM's budget for this program is stretched beyond it's capacity to handle gathers by the financial burden of the massive excess' in holding and populations on the range are exploding unchecked. This is a growing emergency that will take a collective effort to remedy.
Now more than ever, the future is uncertain for the tens of thousands of mustangs in short and long term holding, NOW is the time to take action if you are passionate about mustangs: ADOPT, VOLUNTEER, DONATE!
If you are just discovering the wild horse dilemma we recommend checking out the film Unbranded for a digestible introduction to this vast issue and read the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act.
Population statistics were sourced from the following 2018 BLM REPORT to congress with recommendations to overhaul the existing wild horse and burro program.
Your Land Your Horse
ACRES PUBLIC LAND nationally
HERD MANAGEMENT AREAS
ACRES BLM managed nationally
ACRES herd management areas
Your tax dollars fund the care of, and continued access to, our nations public lands. The resources, wildlife, and natural spaces in our nations 2.3 billion acres of public lands are for every American, young and old, to enjoy for lifetimes to come. The 26.9 million acres of herd management areas inhabited by an estimated 100,000 horses and burros currently on range are part of Americas heritage. This is YOUR LAND and these are YOUR HORSES. The designated range area from which the mustangs in our program are sourced are no exception. Jackalope Acres' horse programs promote the continued investment in healthy ecology and diverse biology found in Americas range lands. The partnership between the BLM and Jackalope Acres brings wild horses to an under represented landscape in Alaska. Our partnership is part of our ongoing commitment to promote healthy multi use access to Americas beautiful natural resources.
To learn more about YOUR LAND and YOUR HORSE visit Americas Mustang.