Branding Iron

Blaine Northrop, Chief Brand Inspector



     I had to provide inspections at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) horse and burro adoption sale in Fargo last month.  It was a pretty interesting event.  A few of the people there to adopt an animal seemed to know what they were getting into; others probably were in for a surprise.  It’s probably deceiving when all they see are these nice animals eating hay in the pens, not seeming to have a care in the world.  I trapped enough of these animals in Nevada to know what they are capable of, and I have a steel plate holding my neck together to prove it.  


     There was a couple from out of state that came in to adopt a few animals.  Everyone had to fill out an adoption application, including a drawing of their holding pens and the height of the fence first.  This couple indicated on their application that they had a holding pen with a 7-foot-high fence.  They picked out five horses and away they went, heading home to get their trailer and grinning like they just had won the lottery.  And they kind of did, being the BLM was paying $1,000 for every adoption.  The couple showed up a few hours later with a trailer.  


     The next morning when I drove in, I only saw one BLM hand.  She was sitting on a lawn chair underneath the neck of a trailer half awake.  We visited for a bit and then she started to tell me the story.  After I had left the night before, the BLM crew went to eat and had just sat down when the out-of- state couple called and told them the horses had gotten away.  The group left the restaurant and headed across the border to recapture the horses.  When they got to the premises, all there was something reminiscent of a hotwire fence.  This is when the BLM crew knew the couple had falsified their application about the required 7-foot fence.  


     The couple had put the horses inside the hot-wire fence, thinking they would stay there.  Instead, the horses blew through the fence and ran themselves onto a peninsula between two rivers.  They were trapped there, so one of the BLM guys drove back to the sale site and tore down and loaded part of the holding pens to capture the loose horses.  The crew had captured four of the five, including a jumper, by the time he returned with the pens.  Once they captured the horses, hauled them back to town and reset the pens, it was 3 o’clock in the morning.  Talk about a tired bunch.  


     A few more horses were adopted the next day and, by the time I left Sunday night, there was no word if the fifth horse that had escaped from that couple was ever captured.  It was kind of a sad ending, knowing there was a horse, wearing a halter, running loose.  Hopefully, he’ll get captured and returned to the BLM.


      I spent so much time dealing with horses out west, I still get weekly updates from friends in Nevada letting me know where and how many mustangs are being gathered.  The BLM is trying to take care of some of the horses, so cattle producers can graze their allotments since the Herd Management Areas are so overpopulated in Nevada.  It’s taking a real toll on the habitat.  


     According to the BLM, it costs each John and Jane Doe taxpayer $1,900 a year to house and feed each BLM horse.  This is because of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.  The BLM has found it more cost efficient to pay someone $1,000 per head to adopt a horse or burro.  Right now, more horses are being gathered and more adoptions will be scheduled.  It’s too bad some people try to take advantage of this at the animals’ expense.  Hopefully, the government will finally take notice and the necessary steps to eliminate overpopulation of wild horses in our country.