Wild mustangs are running out of wide open spaces, federal land managers don't have enough money to care for them and the poor economy reduced the number of people willing to adopt the animals to a trickle.
Penn Valley resident Michele DeCamp is dedicated to finding homes for the horses that might otherwise be euthanized.
Since 1973, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has placed more than 219,000 horses and burros in private care through adoption. Escalating hay prices and a loss of ranches triggered by the real estate slump, has slowed adoption in recent years, DeCamp said.
"With the economy the way it is, no one wants to adopt," DeCamp said.
Since June, she has worked with yearling J.D., gaining his trust and training him for adoption at the Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo that will be held in Reno next month.
The expo is part of the Mustang Heritage Foundation's Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. Winners of the competition could win $5,000 and horse lovers can chose from 200 horses to adopt for only $125.
Adoption fees include shots, trimmed feet and male gelding, DeCamp said. Mentors are available to help new mustang owners train their horses.
J.D., short for "Just Dude" is a deep dark mahogany brown gelded male with a white star on his face described as smart, calm and quiet. DeCamp picked up the horse from a Bureau of Land Management holding facility at Palomino Valley in Nevada. BLM manages the animals on public lands under a federal law enacted in the early 1970's.
"They're completely wild. They've never had human touch," DeCamp said.
It didn't take long to "gentle" J.D., who now follows DeCamp around her ranch near Lake Wildwood.
"Once you establish that trust with them, the rest is just cake. Horses love partnerships. You become their herd leader," DeCamp said.
Wild horses have few natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, an estimated 33,000 wild horses and burros roam BLM-managed lands in 10 Western states. That population exceeds the number that can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses by 5,700, according to BLM.
Feeding and caring for the animals has become so expensive that the federal agency is now considering euthanizing animals.
"We know this is not a popular option, but we are at a critical point where we must consider using the legal authorities allowed us" the release said.
This year, holding costs will exceed $26 million and energy costs for transportation and feed have increased $4 million, according to a release issued by the agency last month.
Allowing the animals to run free and unmanaged feeds an overpopulation problem and can create havoc in regions where land is used to graze cattle.
"For years they were just shot and killed," DeCamp said.
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