Featured News, Siskiyou


Authors: Kelsey Stangebye J.D. – Michael Harris J.D.

A band of heritage wild horses at Wild Horse Ranch in Siskiyou County, CA. Photo: William E. Simpson II

Each year thousands of wild horses are rounded-up and removed from public lands in the western United States. The majority of these horses are sent to holding facilities and maintained at great cost to American tax payers. Today, approximately 80,000 wild horses are being held off the range. As a result, these horses are unable to perform the important beneficial ecological functions on the American landscape, such as the grazing of grass and brush wildfire fuels, they have adapted-to after millions of years. 

Federal land managers at the Bureau of Land Management (‘BLM’) and the United States Forest Service (‘USFS’), who are also responsible for the humane management of protected American wild horses under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Public Law 92-195), are limited in their management options for wild horses by Section 1339 of the Act. These managers are prohibited by Section 1339 from relocating wild horses from herd areas that may have determined ‘excess’ populations and/or are in conflict with commercial enterprises and rewilding them into appropriate wilderness areas outside designated wild horse management areas. In a sense, wild horses are ‘boxed-in’ based upon a Law that in many ways has become obsolete as pressures for increased public lands use in some areas create conflicts for wild horses.

There is, however, an underutilized legal path for wild horse managers at the BLM and USFS to work with local and state governmental entities to relocate and rewild American wild horses into appropriate state and county managed wilderness areas. Local and state government entities could request the Bureau of Land Management (or the USFS) to transfer BLM (or USFS) horses to public lands that are not managed within the BLM herd management areas. The legal transfer could essentially rewild the horses into remote wilderness areas to graze on public lands and provide an essential wildfire grazing management tool for local and state governmental entities in areas that are manifestly unsuited for cattle or sheep wildfire grazing. 

  1. Background of the Humane Transfer of Excess Horses 

As of 2017, Congress has considered passage of a new law called the Humane Transfer of Excess Animals (now Section 417, formerly 313) (hereinafter HTEA). This law would authorize federal, state and local governmental entities to formally request excess wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management so that these approved governmental entities may use wild horses as “work animals”. By definition, excess wild horses are horses that have been removed by the BLM from the public range and are managed by the BLM in holding corrals. There is not a specific statutory definition of “work animal” as it pertains to this HTEA passage.  A governmental entity could submit a request for “work animals” for horses to be used for grazing management and wildfire mitigation. 

  1. Why would the Humane Transfer of Excess Animals benefit local county and state agencies?

The HTEA could serve as a legal path for a wild horse rewilding pilot program that would demonstrate that wild horses can be managed in an ethical manner in appropriate wilderness areas, removed from areas of economic conflicts, as wild and free and benefit the surrounding environment and the local resident taxpayers. The transfer program is free for the requesting state/local governmental entity.  There is minimal financial risk to the requesting governmental entity to obtain the excess wild horses as the work animals would be used in remote wilderness grazing areas not suited for cattle or sheep, or other wildfire fuels management methodologies. The horses could dramatically reduce the costs for wildfire mitigation through their natural grazing patterns which benefits a multitude of stakeholders.  

By utilizing the Humane Transfer of Excess Animals, there is a logical opportunity to use ‘cooperative federalism’ to develop a pilot program to transfer excess wild horses from BLM holding corrals to be used as “work horses” to graze naturally in remote forested areas in western states. Rather than county, state and other local government agencies exclusively engaging privately owned cattle and sheep into wildfire grazing through memorandums of understanding ‘MOU(s)’, especially into environmentally sensitive wilderness areas where ruminant livestock grazing may be ecologically inappropriate.

  1. Summary of the Transfer Requirements and Legality of the Humane Transfer of Excess Animals. 

The Instruction Memorandum (IM) dated April 21, 2022, outlines the policy and guidance for the federal, state and local authorities to request to the BLM to transfer excess wild horses and burros. According to the BLM’s website, this IM provides legal grounds for the BLM to review applications and approve transfers of wild horses to the approved governmental applicants as the IM “supersedes the Adoption of Wild Horses and Burros Handbook, H 4750-2, Chapter 2 – General Adoption Requirements and Procedures, Section A – 3 (Adoption Application – Adoptions to Other Federal Agencies, States, Counties and Cities).”  

 The requirements and standards are generally minimal and there are not any costs associated with the transfer application/ request. The governmental requestor makes arrangements with the BLM to pick up the approved horses and is responsible for shipping. The transfer could be utilized by the requesting governmental entity “immediately.” Additionally, given the desire of thousands of wild horse advocates to save wild horses via rewilding, there is likely cooperative private funding that could ostensibly cover transport costs for the requesting local governmental agency. 

 The governmental agency must provide its general clerical information including name, address, description of the facility available to shelter the wild horses. The application needs to specify whether the wild horses need to be trained (i.e. halter and or saddle trained), a description of the work that the “work animal” would be used for, an affidavit outlining that the horses will not be destroyed, sold or used in a way that results in their destruction for commercial products. Additionally, the requestor is required to sign an affidavit confirming that if euthanasia is required due to “severe injury, illness or advanced age,” then it must be upon recommendation of a licensed veterinarian.   There is not a shortage of work animals asthere are over 80,000 BLM horses managed in off-range holding sites. This program could be utilized immediately in anticipation for Spring range management and fire mitigation practices. 

Once excess horses are transferred to the requesting governmental entity, then horses would lose their federally protected status as a wild free-roaming horse or burro as defined in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. However, based on the language in the HTEA passage, the governmental entity will be bound by contractual affidavits to manage and ensure the welfare of the wild horses obtained under the HTEA. 

Now is the time for local and state governmental entities to request excess wild horses through the HTEA.  This kind of passage would promote fiscal soundness, the humane treatment of wild equines while benefiting the local and regional stakeholders, as well as governmental stakeholders with their public land grazing management. All questions regarding a transfer request should be directed to Paul McGuire, Acting Off-Range Branch Chief, Wild Horse and Burro Program at (405) 826-3036 or by email at [email protected].

About Michael Harris:

Mike Harris practices environmental, conservation and wildlife law. In addition to having represented clients in numerous court and administrative proceedings across the United States, Mike has taught courses in environmental law, land use law, air pollution law and administrative law. Mike has been part of the advisory board of the all-volunteer 501-3 nonprofit Wild Horses Fire Brigade since 2022. Mike currently practices law at BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC (‘BCM’). Before joining BCM, Mike was an Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at the Vermont Law and Graduate School. Prior to that he lived in Colorado where he was General Counsel and Director of the Wildlife Law Program for Friends of Animals, an international non-profit animal organization. From 2008 through 2014, Mike was an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. He has also worked for Earth Justice, the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles, and several private law firms. Mike received his Juris Doctor from the University of California—Berkeley School of Law. He earned a Masters in the Study of Law from Vermont Law School, and a Bachelor of Arts from Pitzer College. 

About Kelsey Stangebye:

Kelsey Stangebye received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Carolina, majoring in Political Science. She graduated cum laude from Northern Illinois University College of Law and was the Research Editor for their Law Review. Her article “Cowboys Gone Rogue: The Bureau of Land Management’s Mismanagement of Wild Horses in Light of its Removal Procedures of ‘Excess’ Wild Horses,” examined the use of public land in the western states. As a law student, Ms. Stangebye worked as a student attorney in the NIU Foreclosure Mediation Clinic, where she represented homeowners in their foreclosure mediations through the Kane County Residential Foreclosure Mediation Program. She was nominated by the clinical faculty at Northern Illinois University College of Law for the “Outstanding Clinical Student Award” for her work in the legal clinic. Additionally, she participated in the ABA Negotiation Competition, which focused on representing corporate and individual clients in business negotiations. Ms. Stangebye’s team bested the two highest-ranked Illinois law schools in the competition. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois and is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association. In addition to practicing law at Shawn Bolger Ltd in Chicago IL, Kelsey also serves on the advisory board of the all-volunteer 501-c-3 nonprofit Wild Horse Fire Brigade.


  1. Kathleen Hayden

    Is the Fire Brigade a partial solution to restore Wild horses and burro to Optimum Sustainable Populations without amending the basic Resource Management Plan (RMP)? https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/12/2016-28724/resource-management-planning.
    Mountain States v. Hodel) ” In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife. At the outset, it is important to note that wild horses and burros are no less “wild” animals than are the grizzly bears that roam our national parks and forests.
    Extreme prejudice against native horses is expressed by Kim Thorburn, Commissioner Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife declares that’ Those gorgeous herds of wild horses are non-native and destroying the West”. A petition filed on June 10, 2104 was rejected on the basis of the feral allegation. (see http://www.all-creatures.org/alert/alert-20140611.pdf) On September 03, 2013 when Barry Jones ( the principal biologist for the Ramona Grasslands Conservation bank) was asked to list San Deigo’s heritage herd on the inventory list of cultural and natural resources he replied “This is something I am not passionate about and am too busy even if I were to be of any assistance. Plus I have never heard of the USFWS listing an introduced species like the horse.
    The extraction of non excess wild horses and burros from diminishing historic native ranges is facilitated by politically motivated/ technically flawed Resource Management Plans. (RMPs) which can be amended for compliance with the special status Species portion of the Endangered Species Act and 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.
    By exclusion as an American Native/historic cultural RESOURCE from Resource Management Plans (RMPs) ,not only are the indigenous peoples denied their historic inheritance but is also being extorted from future generations of all Americans. For current Archeology findings see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4g_oFJc7lq4. Fast forward to 18:43.
    Exceprt: The North American for wildlife model serves as both a historical narrative for understanding the origins and gradual development of North American conservation. It is the basis for current regulatory practices. It is also a possible prescription for future conservation success. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation | PERCwww.perc.org/2019/06/19/the-north-american-model-of-wildlife-conservation/.
    CA alone has 45, 864,800 acres of federal lands and 100,206,720 acres of State Land, a very small portion of the US federal government owned 640 million acres of PUBLIC land and about 28% of the nation’s total surface, 2.27 billion acres. The majority of this is not encumbered with livestock allotments and may be suitable as an American Native and cultural historic wild horse/ burro habitat.
    Until your Congressmen are aware that funds are available to relocate our wild horse and burro herds, the atrocities against our National treasures will continue. The BLM budgeted program is based on extraction, conversion, warehousing, and adoption, all at taxpayers expense.

    —–Original Message—–From: [email protected] Sent: Monday, April 05, 2010
    Subject: Management Plan draft eis California Desert Conservation Area Plan, CA
    The WH&B program has provision for developing an Herd Area Management Plan designed to implement management actions or areas designated as Herd Management Areas through the land use plan. The burden to demonstrate that BLM’s inventory of the 1971 WH&B areas of use was in error falls to the challenger. (via Resource Management Plan amendments) When the plan establishing areas of use was approved, it represented BLM’s decision based on best available data. If the public has quantifiable data which shows there may be an error, they need to provide those data to petition BLM to reconsider the decision. I know of only two cases where this has happened.
    One in Tonopha where Joe Fallini won a decision in District Court greatly reducing the size of the Reveille HMA and the second in Phoenix where the public provided maps that had not been considered during the RMP/HMA decision.
    Tom Pogacnik
    Deputy State Director, Natural Resources Bureau of Land Management
    2800 Cottage Way
    Sacramento, CA 95825
    (916) 978-4637

  2. Shannon Lack

    This is super exciting news!!!!

  3. Judy Duncan

    This is the most positive information that I have read about the problems of our wild equine
    There is a solution I was so depressed. I was sure that no one on earth knew of a solution. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  4. Diane Lindbergh

    I have asked for a link as I can not find this listed in the government data base. I see something in appropriations that was in 2017. It could help with some horses in holding but would have to be a slow roll out. Wild horses learn generationally so if we were to release them, they would have to have somebody help move them to year round resources for survival for a least a year.

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