Monday, October 11, 2010


Wild horses, feral horses, mustangs are viewed as pests, legends, symbols of American freedom, and the old west. They were brought here by the Spanish in the 15th century, left to fend for themselves. In a short time, they effectively repopulated the North Americas. Few of these Spanish descendents remain in isolated herds on public rangelands – the Kigers in Oregon, the Pyors in Montana, and the Sulpher herd in Utah. Most wild horses on today's rangelands, however, are descendents of ranch horses – they are draft horses and cow ponies turned loose or escaped. Wild horses may have been North American residents for a few hundred years, but in the time scheme of ecosystem adaptions, they are anything but native and must be actively managed to protect the stability of rangelands.

Though, 14,000 years ago, they were native. It is believed that a mixture of excessive hunting and climate change contributed to their extinction. And now they've returned in much larger form than their predecessors. No longer do they live peaceably on the landscape, within the ecosystem. The land evolved without them so it can no longer sustain their high numbers. Their large hooves compact the soil. Their upper incisor teeth allow them to graze the grasses until there's nothing left. Their grazing patterns, because of an inefficient digestive system, means that they eat a lot more than other ungulates. All these impacts are new to the landscape and it struggles to thrive under their ever growing populations. With few predators – cougars, wolves, bears – their population grows at as much as twenty percent each year. What natural kills do occur is not enough to naturally manage these creatures.

In order to maintain a balance between these introduced species, the native flora and fauna, and other uses of the rangelands, wild horses must be managed. My goal for the next two years is to learn, first hand, what impacts these creatures have on the landscape, what can be done to prevent further degradation, and repair overused areas. I do not do it to argue that they do not belong. I do not do it to argue that cattle have more right to the landscape than wild horses, for they do as much damage. I do it because I want to see these horses remain. Even though they are not native species, they are a piece of American history.

I want to help manage them to coexist on the landscape with native flora and fauna, cattle, and human uses.

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