America ‘s wild horses and burros have a rich history and are living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West. But did you know that protecting this heritage is also a part of the mission of the U.S. Forest Service?

In fact, the agency manages more than 30 wild horse or burro territories on more than 2 million acres in Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.

“The animals that have survived on the range are a genetic and historic remnant of the Old West,” said Barry Imler, the agency’s National Program Manager for Wild Horses and Burros. “The characteristics that were important in the Old West days are still found in our wild horses and burros — strength, endurance and reliability.”

Spanish explorers reintroduced horses to the Americas in the 15th century. Other sources that contributed to wild horse populations included losses from wagon trains, ranchers, pony express, loggers, and farm stock. In addition, the U.S. Calvary, stage lines, and bankrupt farmers and ranchers intentionally turned horses out on the public lands as recently as during the Depression.

Burros accompanied Spanish missionaries to the Americas and were later used by prospectors as sturdy pack animals. Burros also worked in mines hauling ore and supplies into desolate mining camps. When the mines shut down, the burros were turned loose to join those that had escaped from the missionaries and prospectors.

“The U.S. Forest Service is required to balance management of wild horses and burros with other uses, such as livestock and wildlife,” Imler added. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires that these horses and burros are managed in a thriving ecological balance with the land and as part of the natural landscape.”

This sometimes requires that excess in these populations must be removed from an area in order to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship in that area. Thus, the health of the land and the health of the animals requires that excess wild horses and burros are removed from their territories.

Fortunately, they often find a good home through adoption with the American public. Those that are not adopted, are placed in long-term pastures where they live out their natural lives on the prairie. However, this is a costly option so adoption of wild horses and burros is preferred. Learn more about Curly, a five-year old stud, and the successful adoption of his band of 12 wild horses from the Jicarilla Wild Horse Territory on the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico.