The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

How do you *lose* 19 Million Acres???

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on February 11, 2010

So how do you lose 19 million acres of land? Did ya forget it at home? Or maybe it’s in the bottom of your purse! All I can say is you better go to the closest hardware store – quick – and get some super glue ’cause you got some slippery hands!

Ok, so enough with the jokes (for now). I have received some questions following the last post of “Links, Links and More Links” about the public lands, grazing permits, etc. There was some confusion about what constituted an HA and an HMA, and where the approximately 19 million+ acres has gone. Hopefully, the information in this post will clear some of this up. Please let me know if there are any questions about all of this. There are links embedded in the information, and as well links to further informational sites at the end.

HA = Herd Area = the area in which the wild free-roaming horses and burros were found when the 1971 act was passed.

HMA = Herd Management Area = the area in which these equines are now managed by the BLM.

The difference in the total acreage of the HAs and HMAs comes to around 19 million+. That is to say, there are around 19 million+ acres less in the HMAs than there are in the HAs. The reasoning for this is due to – oddly enough – the railroad.

 From Wikipedia: “The First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the Pacific Railroad and later as the Overland Route), built in the United States between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and Union Pacific Railroad, connected Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska (via Ogden, Utah and Sacramento, California) to Alameda, California. By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States, the road thus connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States by rail for the first time. Opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the “Last Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah, the road established a mechanized transcontinental transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West. Authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 during the American Civil War and supported by 30-year U.S. government bonds and extensive land grants of government owned land, it was the culmination of a decades-long movement to build such a line and was one of the crowning achievements labor in the crossing of plains and high mountains westward by the Union Pacific and eastward by the Central Pacific.”

 Congress wanted to “entice” the railroad companies to build a rail line from coast to coast, so they used plots of land as incentive.

From the Pacific Railroad Act, July 01, 1862: “Section 3  And be it further enacted, {Land grants; alternate sections.} That there be, and is hereby, granted to the said company, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of said railroad and telegraph line, and to secure the safe and speedy, transportation of the mails, troops, munitions of war, and public stores thereon, every alternate section of public land, designated by odd numbers, {Changed to ten by Sec. 4, 1864, and grant to twenty miles.} to the amount of five alternate sections per mile on each side of said railroad, on the line thereof, and within the limits of ten miles on each side of said road, not sold, reserved, or otherwise disposed of by the United States, and to which a preemption or homestead claim may not have attached, at the time the line of said road is definitely fixed: {Minerals and timber; Sec. 4, 1864.} Provided that all mineral lands shall be excepted from the operation of this act; but where the same shall contain timber, the timber thereon is hereby granted to said company. And all such lands so granted by this section which shall not be sold or disposed of by said company within three years after the entire road shall have been completed, shall be subject to settlement and pre-emption like other lands, at a price not exceeding one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, to be paid to said company.

(This is just the first of many amendments and further legislation that would follow, known as the Pacific Railroad Acts.)

BLM came into existence in the 1950s when the Grazing Service was combined with the Federal Land Office. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) is BLM’s primary authorizing act, with the Taylor Grazing Act 1934 and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act 1978 among other governing legislation (as amended).

By this time, much of the original 19+ million acres consisted of state or private land that would not be controlled by the BLM. There came to be a “checkerboard” land pattern with lands transferred to other agencies through legislation, hence federal management of wild horses on these lands is just not feasible.  There are other reasons as well. An approximate breakdown of the percentage of the 19 million+ acres and the reasons it was removed from wild horse or burro management are listed below.

  1. Land or Water not Controlled by BLM = 66%
  2. Unsuitable habitat = 12%
  3. Other reasons such as development, court orders, feasibility of managing very small isolated populations = 3%
  4. Horses claimed as private property during the claiming period authorized by the 1971 Act = 6%
  5. Resource conflicts such as T&E species = 10%
  6. Equine infectious anemia (Coggins) indigenous to the herd area = 3%

The following maps show how the checkerboard land affected the HMAs.  The first map just shows an example of what the checkerboard land is – the white sections are private lands and the yellow sections are federal land.  This patterning of the lands – one parcel private, the next public, private, public and so on – makes it impossible to manage wild horses in these areas without an agreement from the private landowner.  The next map shows the herd areas. The 3rd map shows the herd management areas, and how horses are not managed in these checkerboard areas except for a few in Wyoming where the BLM has agreements with the private landowner.
(Maps Courtesy of the National Wild Horse and Burro Program.)

Checkerboard Patterned Lands in Humboldt County, Nevada

Original Herd Areas in 1971

Herd Management Areas Where Horses are Managed Today

Coxrail: Railroad Land Grants

Library of Congress: Railroad Land Grants

Railroad Land Grant Chronology by George Draffan



2 Responses to “How do you *lose* 19 Million Acres???”

  1. sandra longley said

    are the railroad lines represented on the maps? Or are those highways or water ways?

    • I believe those are highways. I am still working on getting the maps showing the railroad lines, both currently and from past times. The ones from now are pretty easy. The ones from the past are pretty fuzzy.

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