BELLE FOURCHE — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be holding two wild horse and burro adoption events in Belle Fourche next week.
The BLM manages wild horse populations on federal lands as laid out in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 that directed the management, protection, and study of unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on the country’s public lands.
Under this protection, wild horse populations greatly increased, and although the BLM struggled to implement adequate herd management in many areas, in 1973, it began a successful program for rounding up excess number, and adopting out these captured horses and burros to private owners. This remains the primary method of removing excess horses from managed land, although, in recent years, the adoption rate has not kept up with the removal rate.
Jerrie Bertola, Montana/Dakotas Wild Horse and Burro Program lead, said that the Belle Fourche adoption events are expected to include five burros and around 20 wild horses, aged between 1-7 years old, with the majority being from 1-4 years old. The burros may be older.
The available horses are from Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming; the burros are from Nevada. The animals are currently being held in North Dakota and Wyoming. They’ll be arriving in Belle Fourche Monday prior to the sale.
The Monday event will run from 4-7 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Adoptions will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The adoption fee is $25 per animal and there is a process involved for the adoption.
“The easiest way to look at is that you (the adopter) would foster the animals for BLM and you care for it for a year,” Bertola said.
After one year, an adopter is eligible to receive a title for the ownership of the animal and it becomes the private property of the owner.
“During that year, you care for anything, just like it would be your own animal,” she said.
BLM officials periodically check up on the animals to ensure they’re being properly cared for.
The organization offers a $1,000 incentive for qualified adopters - $500 paid within 60-90 days of an adoption and another $500 within 60 days after the owner receives the animal’s title.
Bertola said there is a potential to have a few trained animals for adoption next week, running a potential adopter $125. A trained animal has been halter broke, able to be led, pick up all four hooves, and load into a trailer.
“The untrained ones, they are literally untouched until an adopter says that they want that animal” Bertola said. “They are still wild.”
All animals available for adoption through the BLM have been vaccinated.
Bertola recommended those interested in adopting an animal from the event go to www.blm.gov, print and fill out an application and bring to the event. Applications will also be available on site at the events. She recommended that people not submit an application via email as the event organizers will be on site and not available to consider applications that way.
Potential adopters do have to meet certain criteria to adopt a BLM animal. Those include: a minimum of 400 square feet of space for each animal and fence heights depending on the age and class of animal.
“If it’s a burro, the fencing will need to be four-and-one-half feet high,” Bertola said. “A yearling horse is five feet high. And then anything (a horse) that’s over 18 months (old) needs to have a six feet high fence.”
The fencing material is required to be solid in structure like panels or rails, no wire or electric fencing is permitted. After the animal is better trained, those materials are allowed for penning an animal.
Because the event is first-come, first-serve, adopters whose applications have been approved are put into an application order. Then, when the selection process begins, the adopters go in order of application approval.
“And under the adoption incentive program, each adopter is eligible to receive the $1,000 on up to four animals,” Bertola said.
The program has been successful in South Dakota.
“We did an event is west Fargo, N.D., the last weekend of July, and then we ended right around the 12th of August in Rapid City, we made four stops in South Dakota and placed 160 animals,” Bertola said, representing a 100% success rate, as 161 animals were up for adoption but due to a minor injury to one of the horses, it was removed from the list. “South Dakota has been very willing to take animals and provide good homes.”
Bertola said that the Montana-Dakota region within the BLM has helped place around 740 so far since March, “So it’s been a really great year for us.”
“Everywhere we have been this year (from Idaho to Montana and South Dakota), everyone keeps asking when we’ll be back,” she said. “So people are really excited.”
2018 was the first year the BLM offered burros or horses for adoption in over 15 years.
“We’re just excited to be back in South Dakota again,” Bertola said.
Each of the adoption events takes a little more burden off the shoulders of the BLM.
Water availability and decreasing range conditions are common issues with wild horse ranging on public land in the Western United States, Bertola said. The appropriate management level for wild horses and burros in that area is 27,000, which is the maximum number of animals that could be supported in that area without damaging the natural resources.
“And we have over … 80,000 horses on public lands in the Western United States,” Bertola said. “So we have a surplus of about 50,000 on range.”
When those populations increase, resource damage and water shortage force the animals out of the public land in search of survival, she said.
“The more animals we can help place into private care by these willing adopters helps the resource recover,” Bertola said.
The BLM has placed more than 240,000 wild horses and burros into private care since 1971.
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