In June, we reported that animal rights groups were maintaining that the current stock of wild horses that roam on public lands are descendants of native horses that roamed the area about 1.5 million years ago. Armed with DNA and archeological data, these groups want these ‘native’ horses to get the cred they deserve as well as protection against BLM officials rounding up and auctioning off these equine to the highest bidder.
Last week, the Wildlife Society – a group of more than 10,000 pro wildlife biologists and managers – put forth their combined brain matter to declare in one voice that feral horses and burros need to be considered an invasive species. Not part of the ancient horses, these wild horses are related to the domestic horses and that were brought to the area by European explorers and settlers. The Society calls on land management agencies to consider native wildlife and plants first when developing plans to keep the wild equine population under control.
“America’s free-ranging horses are a beloved western icon – and a potentially destructive non-native species that threatens native species and their habitats,” says Michael Hutchins, TWS Executive Director/CEO. “Where lands are degraded, water resources are limited, and native species are already stressed, high densities of feral horses can have substantial negative impacts.”
In recent decades the population of feral horses on public Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands has soared from about 25,000 in 1971 to 69,000 today. More than half of the feral horses – about 37,000 – range freely across 18.6 million hectares of public land while an additional 32,000 are maintained in government-run corrals and pastures. Management of free-ranging and captive animals will cost U.S. taxpayers more than $75 million in 2011. This figure is expected to grow substantially in the coming years and is not sustainable.
For all their majestic equine beauty, feral horses have beaten up many landscapes by trampling plants, hardpacking the soil and over-grazing, say the biologists.
The Society recommends that the BLM and other agencies keep populations low, use roundups to remove excess horses and burros from rangelands, and realize that adoption programs only go so far. In addition, euthanasia should only be used on old, ailing or unadoptable creatures and that fertility programs should only be a piece in the management puzzle