Big Summit Wild Horse Territory

The Big Summit Wild Horse Territory is located approximately 25 miles east of Prineville, Oregon, and totals about  25,434 acres entirely within the Ochoco National Forest (herd management area map).

It is the only wild horse population in the Pacific Northwest that is managed entirely by the US Forest Service.


Wild horse trio



The Big Summit Wild Horse Territory was established in 1975 in accordance with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to protect unbranded and unclaimed horses residing on public lands, "to protect and manage wild free-roaming horses and burros as components of the public lands," and to "manage wild free-roaming horses and burros in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands."

In 1975, there were approximately 60 horses residing on the Ochoco National Forest within ten different bands. The origins of the herd are not entirely clear. Early accounts describe local ranchers in the 1920s turning loose quality animals from a good breeding stock to ensure a future supply of good horses. In later years, thoroughbred stock may have been released into the area, as well.


WH group shot resized

Summer Inventory

The Lookout Mountain Ranger District conducts an annual inventory every June in partnership with the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition (COWHC) in which volunteers spend multiple days riding the territory conducting a head count of horses to determine the herd size. Although every effort is made to locate all horses, counts obtained in the inventory represent the minimum known herd size, as some animals may be missed.

The June 2018 wild horse inventory estimated a current herd size of 135 animals.


WH shot of old horse


Current Herd Management

The current herd management plan was written in 1975 and it prescribes a range of 55 to 65 wild horses on the Big Summit Territory as an appropriate management level. The management plan was created following a 1975 Environmental Assessment of the wild horses and their territory.

The objective of the plan is "to provide for the protection, management, and control of wild, free roaming horses in order that we might perpetuate a sound biological unit consistent with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and the principles of multiple use management."

Methods for managing the herd at the time the plan was written were simply to capture excess horses. "Excess" wild horses and burros are defined as animals which must be removed from an area in order to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship in that area. Both the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are "multiple-use" agencies, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 requires that the agencies balance wild horse and burro use with other resources, such as livestock and wildlife.

The Ochoco National Forest has not rounded up wild horses for adoption in recent years, and there is not currently anywhere for the Forest to house any horses they might gather, although the Lookout Mountain Ranger District has a partnership with COWHC that has been very successful in finding homes for all captured Big Summit wild horses in the past.

Updating the Herd Management Plan

Why? The existing herd management plan is more than 40 years old and out of date. Tools previously used for capture, adoption, processing and managing genetic diversity are not currently available. Herd management is also challenged by population growth and unsustainable costs to the management program. 

The Ochoco National Forest is working in cooperation with partners and stakeholders to update the plan. Starting in 2015, the Forest Service began meeting monthly with a public working group assembled by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council to explore wild horse management issues and engage in mutual learning about diverse public values. Beginning in 2017, the Forest Service began the preliminary environmental planning process to initiate an Environmental Impact Statement which will inform a new plan. This is a multi-year effort that will engage the public and interested stakeholders on an ongoing basis.

Wild Horse Plan Revision EIS Frequently Asked Questions

Other Resources

US Forest Service Wild Horses and Burros Program

BLM Wild Horses and Burros Quick Facts


For more information, contact Public Affairs Officer Patrick Lair at or (541) 416-6647