Too Many Wild Horses? Some Legislators Say Wyoming’s ‘Feral’ Horses Population Is Out Of Control

Wyomings wild or feral horse population remains essentially uncontrolled, some legislators said. Meanwhile, the states Native American tribes could set an example in horse management, a wildlife advocate said Tuesday.

Mark Heinz

October 26, 20223 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The debatable overpopulation of wild horses in Wyoming is a huge concern, a legislator said during a brief discussion about the animals in a committee meeting Tuesday. 

“Do we have this in hand?” state Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, asked Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trustee Bob Budd during a Tuesday meeting of the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation and Cultural Resources Joint Committee in Cheyenne.

“We do not have it (the wild horse population) under control,” Budd Replied. “We do not have it in hand.” 

The wild, or feral, horses can be particularly hard on forage and water supplies upon which other wild animals rely, Budd said.

Federal Management

Though not on the agenda, the topic came up during Budd’s report to the committee, which Landen sits on. 

Landen, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, and other committee members expressed concern about the wild horse population. They said the matter can be vexing because the animals remain under federal, and not state, management.

The Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971 gave jurisdiction over those animals to the Department of Interior, with the Bureau of Land Management as the agency directly in charge. 

Tribes Could Set Example

Wyoming’s Native Americans still have some degree of tribal sovereignty over wild horse populations on their lands, Budd said. That gives them more leeway in horse management than the state might have. 

He’s meeting this week with leaders from the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes to discuss and observe some of the ways they manage wild horse herds in the Lander area. 

Money from the wildlife trust could possibly go toward the tribes’ horse management and wildlife habitat improvement efforts, he said. 

Wild Or Feral?

Wild horses, of which there about 4,000 in Wyoming, remain a flashpoint for controversy in the Cowboy State and across the West. 

They reproduce rapidly and can double their numbers every few years if not kept in check, Budd said. 

Some argue that the horses aren’t truly “wild” because North America’s only known native equine species is thought to have gone extinct thousands of years ago. The free-ranging horses in the West now descended from animals that were set loose by or escaped from European explorers and settlers. 

That makes them a feral and invasive species that can damage the land and push out native wildlife, detractors claim.

Advocates say the horses, sometimes called “mustangs,” have lived here long enough to have adapted to the landscape and that they should be respected as wildlife. 

The BLM has tried different management methods, including rounding up mustangs and putting them up for adoption.

Wild horse advocate Carol Walker of Longmont, Colorado, recently told Cowboy State Daily that’s she’s frustrated about adoptions from the BLM horse holding corrals in Wheatland being delayed for months. The delays are supposedly because the facility has been suffering a prolonged outbreak of an equine disease commonly called “the strangles.”

National Guard veteran Cameron Ring of Virginia told Cowboy State Daily he had an innovative idea to curb the population – assign military combat veterans armed with dart rifles to shoot mustang mares with birth control drugs.

Though Ring claimed the idea had gained some traction with members of Congress, the Wyoming Legislature has shown no interest in it. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter