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BLM seeks new lands for wild horses

As wild horse populations grow and available pasture locations reach capacity, the Bureau of Land Management looks to quell the herds by finding new stomping ground.

The BLM is accepting bids from small businesses for long-term pasture facilities to care for and maintain 800 to 5,000 wild horses.

BLM Spokesperson Tom Gorey said from his Washington office Wednesday that horse numbers have been a problem for years and that many horses have been relocated to short-term corrals or long-term pastures, but those facilities are filling up.

"We simply don't have a balance between the population and adoption demands," Gorey said.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not related to the BLM project, but the Park is dealing with an overabundant horse population as well, Superintendent Valerie Naylor said.

"Our horses are not truly wild horses, they are an historical exhibit," she said. "They are kept to show people what horses were like in the times of Theodore Roosevelt."

Naylor said the population is about 125 and they would like it to be between 50 and 90.

The Park population is in its second year of a contraceptive study and no horses will be removed until completion of the research, Naylor said.

Approximately 38,500 horses are roaming BLM-managed land in 10 states, with the population of horses exceeding the acceptable number by nearly 12,000, according to the BLM website. Gorey said the abundance is because there are no natural predators of horses.

Gorey said most of the pasture facilities are in Kansas and Oklahoma, with some in Iowa and South Dakota, but they are looking for anyone who has an interest and the means.

Applicants for the program must undergo an environmental assessment to ensure the pasture can handle the horses, Gorey said.

"There is no one size fits all, but it depends on the amount of forage and acreage," he said. "It depends what we see when we are out on the ground checking ourselves."

There are no long-term pasture facilities used by the BLM in North Dakota and that is because nobody has shown interest, BLM Dickinson Field Manager Lonny Bagley said.

"I think just because we don't have any wild horse herds in North Dakota," he said about the lack of interest.

Gorey said that herd sizes grow at a rate of 20 percent per year and are doubling about every four years. An average of about 10,000 horses are removed from the free-range and placed in pastures each year, he said.

North Dakota Nokota Horse Conservancy Representative Frank Heitz said that placement of horses in a pasture facility does not eliminate the problem of overpopulation because of breeding in the new location.

"It is all fine and dandy as long as there is no reproduction," he said, adding that many of the horses could be crossbred, which can be a drawback for horse enthusiasts.