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No longer running the range: Wild horse and burro adoption comes to Cannon Falls

Three burros line up as if to pose. They may be small, but they make great watchdogs against wolves and coyotes, according to David Berg, wild horse and burro specialist for the Bureau of Land management.1 / 2
Prospective adopters got a chance to meet the animals at a preview event on Friday. Although they're called "wild" horses and burros, their disposition was anything but.2 / 2

CANNON FALLS -- They are a symbol of the American spirit: wild mustangs bounding across the open plains. But wild horse and burro populations have expanded over the past 40 years, outgrowing the capacity of available rangeland. That is where Wild Horse and Burro Adoption comes in.

The program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, rounds up excess wild horses and burros and adopts them to good homes. BLM is holding an adoption event 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Twin Cities Horse Sales' Simon Arena north of Cannon Falls.

Around 40 wild horses and burros will up for adoption on a first-come, first-served basis, said Steve Meyer, BLM supervisory program specialist. These particular animals come from western states including California, Oregon and Nevada.

Anyone wishing to adopt a wild horse or burro will need to have an approved adoption application and pay an adoption fee. Applications must be approved by the BLM in advance, either through mail or fax, or by applying the day before the adoption at a preview event in some cases.

BLM guidelines state that adopters need a suitable corral, shelter and trailer for the animal, and be able to provide adequate food and water. They also must have a criminal record free of convictions for inhumane treatment of animals, according to the BLM website.

"They don't look that wild," said Ashley Drigans from St. Paul Park, Minn., who was looking at the adoption offerings at a preview event Friday. "I heard once you form a bond with (a wild horse), it's very strong."

Once a wild horse or burro has been adopted, its new owner is responsible for the sometimes difficult task of gentling and domesticating the animal.

"Because the BLM only recently removed them from public rangelands, wild horses and burros are not accustomed to people," the BLM website says. "As an adopter, your challenge will be to develop a trusting relationship with your wild horse or burro."

"It takes a person with patience," said David Berg, wild horse and burro specialist for the BLM Eastern States field office in Milwaukee. "Someone who can take the time to try to understand what the horse is asking them."

With proper training, wild horses and burros can be used for a variety of tasks, Berg said. Wild horses can be used for competitive or recreational riding, and wild burros can be used for packing, driving and as farmstead guards.

"They're really fearless animals," Berg said. "If a canine goes into a livestock pen, the burro will go after it."

The BLM cautions prospective adopters that continued care for a wild horse or burro is a long-term prospect. Horses can live between 15 and 30 years, and burros can live past 45 years, Berg said.

Over their lifespan the animals will incur a variety of costs for food, shelter and medical care. The cost to care for a wild or horse or burro is estimated at a minimum of $1,000 a year per animal, according to the BLM website.

"Having a horse is not a cheap enterprise," Berg said. "It's not only expensive, but also a lot of work."

The Wild Horse and Burro Adoption program got its start in the 1970s when the federal government tasked the BLM with protecting the country's wild horse and burro populations.

With federal protections and no predators, wild horses and burros multiplied to more than 37,000 - well past the rangeland capacity of public 27,000 animals, according to a history page on the BLM website.

With overpopulation comes degradation of habitats and conflicts with ranchers and livestock. The adoption program was designed to reduce wild horse and burro populations and protect habitats on public land in a humane way.

From 1973 to 1999, the BLM has facilitated adoptions for more than 170,000 wild horses and burros, according to its website.

"The program has been very successful," Berg said. "The wild horse populations are managed to right around where we want them to be."

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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