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In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (“the Act”), which made the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) responsible for managing and protecting the free-ranging wild horses and burros on federal public land in the western United States. As the Act permits, the BLM has been removing wild horses from the public range when the BLM determines that an overpopulation of wild horses exists. The excess wild horses are then managed by the BLM in holding facilities for an indefinite period of time. This management practice is unsustainable because the BLM spends nearly two-thirds of their annual budget to manage the horses in the holding facilities. Due to the excessive removal practices as the main form of population control and the ever-increasing reproduction rates of the wild horse herds on the range, the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program has become unsustainable. This Article explores the fiscal, ethical, and legal complications that the BLM faces as they manage the Wild Horse and Burro Program and summarizes various alternative management strategies that the BLM could implement to more effectively manage the wild horse herds on the public range. This Article argues that the courts should not grant deference to the BLM when they propose removal plans that are not supported by the Act; and specifically analyzes that the management practice of removing non-excess wild horses is not supported by the Act. Additionally, this Article analyzes the statutory duties that the BLM is required to follow, such as the “order and priority” for removing the wild horses from the range. The intent of this Article is to show that if the BLM were to follow the strict removal procedures as mandated by the Act, the BLM is more likely to follow the “minimal feasible level” management, which would ultimately make it more feasible that the wild horses and burros remain wild and free on the range.

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Northern Illinois University Law Review

Suggested Citation

Kelsey Stangebye, Cowboys Gone Rogue: The Bureau of Land Management's Mismanagement of Wild Horses in Light of its Removal Procedures of 'Excess' Wild Horses, 37 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 371 (2017).

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