Should the U.S. government euthanize wild horses? | The Tylt
Should the U.S. government euthanize wild horses?
The BLM and researchers say wild horses are invasive species that pose a threat to sensitive areas in the western United States. While it's true horses once naturally roamed North America, that was thousands of years ago. Researchers say the environment today is drastically different than the one that supported horses in the past. Now, herds of wild horses are gathering in sensitive areas like the Salt River in Arizona and destroying fragile ecosystems.
Grasslands are protected by “biotic crusts” that consist of loose soil held together by tiny cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, and green algae. They serve as a fragile glue that keeps desert soils from being washed or blown away. But these crusts are pulverized by horses, leading to poor water absorption, reduced fertility, and long-lasting environmental damage. Grasslands are disappearing as wild horse hooves crush biotic crusts, encouraging erosion that leaves wide swaths permanently degraded, replaced with barren rock
These herds of wild horses consume huge amounts of forage at the expense of native species. It comes down to a choice between romanticizing an invasive species and taking difficult, but effective steps to protect the native environment of the United States.
Mustangs pick ranges clean of essential plants and trample streamsides and pond banks, fouling the water that fish and other animals depend on. In northeastern California, a preserve on the Devil’s Garden Plateau produces about 30 million pounds of usable forage per year. But the horses there require nearly six million pounds more than that, according to Snell’s research, leaving little for other animals and depleting the land before it has a chance to replenish itself. “If we don’t act now,” equine biologist Sue McDonnell has said, “there will be parts [of the American West] that will be lost effectively forever.”
Wild horse advocates say the problem is actually with the BLM and not the wild horses. They argue the BLM is siding with ranchers and special interests over wild horses. The very grasslands the BLM says horses are destroying also see major use from cattle, but there's no uproar to get rid of the cattle. Advocates say wild horses are a huge part of American heritage and must be preserved.
Instead of rounding up horses to be kept in overcrowded and overfunded rescue facilities, advocates say the BLM should put the horses on birth control and let them stay wild, or simply leave the horses alone.
"Yes, we saw damaged rangelands" in Nevada, Kathrens said. "The easy scapegoat has always been wild horses. But wild horses live on just a fraction of the lands that BLM manages and a fraction of the land that livestock graze on."
Most range degradation is caused by livestock, she said, and even the weedy grounds that the committee saw on its field trip were first battered by sheep and cattle.
Rather than dooming captive horses and then rounding up more, Kathrens suggested darting horses with vaccines that prevent pregnancy. She and other certified volunteers have helped do this on some herds, though BLM officials have argued it is not practical as a nationwide solution in rugged country.
Even though horses are not native to North America, people still think of them as part of the American identity. Horses are an iconic American symbol.
Dave Klingensmith decided to come out to the impromptu event with his wife. They are volunteers at Wildhorse Ranch Rescue. Klingensmith moved to Arizona in 1977 and said he remembers watching the horses along the banks of the Salt River while he fished. To him, losing the horses would be like losing one of the last remaining pieces of the true Arizona West.
"I think it would be losing a national treasure of Arizona," Klingensmith said.