SciSun: Horse Sense   Leave a comment

The wild Mustang is a symbol of the West (we’re talking about the horse, not the car. The car’s more the symbol of a wild college student). Throughout the West – particularly in the Basins and deserts of Nevada, California, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon and parts of Western Canada – almost 40,000 wild horses (Equus ferus) and their cousin, the wild Burro (Equus asinus), run free: Living a life without responsibility or burden, enjoying what they want when they want it and answering to no one (they are sounding more and more like college students…).

But some people say these horses maybe have been living a little too well. Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the government department responsible for managing public land and wild horses which generally live on those public lands – estimate the horse and burro population is about 10,000 more than what the land can handle. This carrying capacity is an important ecological measure of how many individuals can live in an environment based on the natural status of that environment. For example, more animals can live where there’s more food and water; fewer where there aren’t as many resources. And if the number of individual animals grows too large and puts too much pressure on the environment, to the point where food and water and space are used up and can’t recover, that’s a very serious situation.

In a balanced ecosystem, natural predators would keep prey animals – like horses – from growing into too large a population. But over time humans have removed or pushed away most of the mountain lions and grizzly bears and wolves that would naturally limit the number of horse and other species. So every three to five years the BLM rounds-up and removes the ‘overpopulaiton’ of wild horses from their environment, placing them in holding areas or for sale to individual owners. Rounding up wild horses isn’t easy, and methods many people believe shouldn’t be used on wild animals – like chasing them with helicopters, or forcing them into closed valleys with no escape, or trapping them in metal chutes – ultimately ends with some of the horses being injured or killed. But, are the horses really wild animals, or un-wanted livestock that’s putting a burden on native ecology?

“Sure, we can keep waiting for a ride, but I still say we should have taken up that offer from the people in the mini-van.  I think they were going to Modesto.”

“Sure, we can keep waiting for a ride, but I still say we should have taken up that offer from the people in the mini-van. I think they were going to Modesto.”

These wild horses are actually the decedents of domestic horses that escaped or were let loose hundreds of years ago by Spanish explorers (which technically makes them feral horses – animals that were once trained to live with man, but later reverted back to their wild origins and now live and act as any wild animal). Although the earliest ancestors of the horse were from North America, but became extinct about 10,000 years ago (about the same time other Pleistocene – or ‘Ice Age’ animals became extinct in North America). So it’s like the horses were here, then they’re gone, now they’re back.

In the early 1900’s it’s estimated there were over two-million wild horses living in Western lands. Human action – and inaction – through the years have reduced that number to the about 40,000 we have now, and some say that’s too many for the land that’s available for them to live. It seems to us these animals who have been here and there and back again, should be allowed to freely live the best they can, a vital symbol of great land and open spaces. But maybe that’s just Horse Sense.


Michonne Says: Horses are really big. And they run fast. But I don’t see how they cause any problems, at least not for marmots. They’ve been here as long as any story that’s known, and that’s as long as any marmot has been, so they must belong here too.

Posted April 7, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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