A weekend event in a far-flung southeast Oregon town could help solve problems around one of the inland West’s most iconic animals.
Beginning Friday, the Beaty Butte Wild Horse Training Facility, in Adel, is hosting a two-day adoption event to try to find local homes for 10 hand-picked mustangs, with names like “Boscoe,” “Napoleon” and “Flash Gordon.”
Mary Bradbury, a board member for the nonprofit facility, said local vendors will sell arts and crafts. The Adel Store, the only store in the tiny community, will host a tri-tip steak dinner on Friday.
In addition to connecting local ranchers with trained horses, the event may provide a framework for better management of Southern Oregon’s population of horses, which dramatically exceeds Bureau of Land Management goals for the area, and is growing quickly.
“If this idea works, it could change the way horses are managed in the West,” Bradbury said.
In 1971, Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which required the government to protect “wild free-roaming horses and burros” on federally managed land. The bureau set the appropriate population in the Beaty Butte Herd Management Area, which spans 437,000 acres about 65 miles east of Lakeview, at between 100 and 250 horses, based on foliage estimates and other factors.
However, James Price, wild horse and burro specialist for the Lakeview district of the land bureau, said the sparsely populated section of Oregon has long dealt with too many wild horses on the land. In 2015, the agency trapped and gathered about 1,200 wild horses in the area, and Julie Weikel, a board member for the facility, said the population could grow.
“The BLM has struggled for some 50 years with the mandate that they manage this American icon,” Weikel said.
Price said the horses migrate to the area from nearby northern Nevada and other parts of the West searching for food or water. Todd Forbes, field manager for the Lakeview district, said having additional horses in the arid part of the state can significantly damage riparian areas, the interface between streams and land. Native animals, including the protected greater sage grouse, rely on riparian zones for water and habitat.
“Those riparian areas just get hammered,” Forbes said.
Previously, the bureau had rounded up horses and placed the animals that couldn’t be adopted in long-term care, an expensive solution. As of May 2017, 46,000 horses were being cared for in off-range corrals, at a cost of $49 million per year to the government, according to the bureau.
In 2015, a collection of community members and representatives from state and federal agencies began looking at ways to better deal with the overpopulation. Ultimately, the nonprofit horse training facility in Adel was formed to take in and train horses that were relatively young and docile. Once trained, the horses would be more appealing to ranchers looking to adopt, Weikel said.
“These horses have been selected because they’re especially sweet and good looking,” she said.
Weikel, a former member of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, said the facility is mainly looking at geldings between the ages of two and three, each of which have been trained under saddle.
About a half-dozen horses from the facility have been adopted, with the remaining 10 slated to be auctioned off Saturday afternoon, following demonstrations and other events on Friday and Saturday morning.
Forbes said the agency is hoping to see 100 percent of the animals at the event adopted, compared to an adoption rate of about 12 percent for wild horses naturally.
Because the horses have training, Forbes said he thinks the animals will be auctioned for more than the standard $125 rate the land bureau charges for most wild horse adoptions. Any additional money earned will go toward the nonprofit organization.
Attendees looking to adopt must abide by the bureau’s adoption requirements, which include providing at least 400 square feet of corral space per animal.
Forbes added that adopted horses remain under bureau ownership for one year, and ownership transfers if the new owners prove they can take care of the horse.
Forbes said he could see the event becoming an annual occurrence in the small town, with about 20 to 30 horses adopted per year.
Weikel added that she could see it becoming a model for other parts of the Western United States that struggle with overpopulation of wild horses.
Weikel and Bradbury acknowledged that they don’t know how many visitors to expect during the event’s first year. Weikel said not everyone attending will be interested in adopting a horse, but added that having the chance to see an iconic species in its natural habitat could draw people from far and wide.
“There will be people coming to see the real West, in its real clothes,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org