Herds Across the West: Owyhee Complex Wild Horses

Our blog series, Herds Across the West, examines wild horses and burros by herd, Herd Management Area (HMA) and state to provide a deeper understanding as we report on roundups and actions affecting each region.

Owyhee Complex | Elko/Winnemucca, Nevada

About the Herds

The Owyhee Complex wild horses are located within both the Elko and Winnemucca, Nevada, districts of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The 1.1 million-acre complex comprises five Herd Management Areas (HMAs): Snowstorm Mountains, Little Owyhee, Rock Creek, Owyhee, and Little Humboldt.

  • The Snowstorm Mountains HMA is made up of 117,000 acres and the BLM sets an AML of 90-140 wild horses.

  • The Little Owyhee HMA is made up of over 460,000 acres and the BLM sets an AML of 194-298 wild horses.

  • The Rock Creek HMA is made up of over 183,000 acres and the BLM sets an AML of 150-250 wild horses.

  • The Owyhee HMA is made up of over 339,000 acres and the BLM sets an AML of 103-139 wild horses.

  • The Little Humboldt HMA is made up of nearly 64,000 acres and the BLM sets an AML of 48-80 wild horses.

Wild horses have roamed in this extremely remote wilderness area for decades, living free as wild horses should. It is believed some are descendants of ranch stock that were released in the area when large-scale ranching operations were in the area. The horses are a beautiful array of colors, from bays, to buckskins to paints. These horses have evolved to be incredibly strong, and they can adapt to extreme temperature changes. Some areas, like the Snowstorm Mountains, the temperature can reach 20-30 below zero (F) and the horses still survive, better yet, they thrive.

They coexist in their habitat with other animals like chukar, sage grouse, deer, coyotes, and various reptiles. The horses also share the land with private cattle, and other extractive land use operations such as large mineral mines and exploratory mining operations. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows the annual equivalent of over 10,000 cow/calf pairs to graze on the public lands in the Owyhee Complex while allowing a maximum of 1,000 wild horses to live in the area!

The habitat comprises deep canyons, towering rocky mountains, and extensive plateaus spanning as far as the eye can see. The Little Owyhee River twists and winds 12 miles through the heart of the complex, offering habitat for many fish, including Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, the largest species of trout! With the changes in climate, brings changes in the flora and fauna of the Owyhee complex as well. If you’re out hiking, backpacking, camping or rock climbing in the wildness area you can expect to see the sweet-smelling sagebrush, colorful phlox, aspen and willow trees and if you’re there at the right time, the waterways are lined with beautiful wild roses.

Roundup Status

The Owyhee Complex has been the site for numerous round ups over the recent years. In 2016, the BLM rounded up and permanently removed 1,400 wild horses from their homes and separated them from their families. More recently, in 2018, the BLM removed 1,178 Owyhee horses. This particular round up was conducted under the guise of an emergency measure after the Martin Fire, a massive wildfire that, according to the BLM, burned 46% of the Little Owyhee HMA and 26% of the Owyhee HMA.


Despite the “urgent need” for wild horses to be removed, AWHC confirmed with the BLM that no actions were taken to reduce the number of livestock grazing in the area. The roundup spanned over the course of 14 days and resulted in 25 protected wild horses losing not only their freedoms in a traumatic way, but also their lives far too early. The BLM released 280 of the rounded-up horses, 129 mares treated with fertility control and 151 stallions.