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WOLF'S DEN: Yes, horses are an invasive species

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Invasive species, such as dalmatian toadflax, zebra mussels, Russian thistle, feral burros and horses, are costing us $1.5 billion each year to deal with their environmental impacts on our public lands.

Yes, it includes horses. The fact is the horse never survived the last ice age in North America, so it is perfectly correct to call them an invasive species as they were brought to North America by European explorers.

Compounding the problem is that these harmful invaders spread at astonishing rates. Such infestations of invasive plants and animals can negatively affect property values, agricultural productivity, public utility operations, native fisheries, tourism, outdoor recreation, and the overall health of an ecosystem.

Invasive species typically harm native species through predation, habitat degradation and competition for shared resources. Invasive species are a leading cause of population decline and extinction in animals.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 400 of the more than 1,300 species currently protected under the Endangered Species Act and more than 180 candidate species for listing are considered to be at risk at least partly due to displacement by, competition with, and predation by, invasive species.

 And yet, we are ignoring the science, letting blind emotion — and dare I say, ignorance — rule the day.

 The Bureau of Land Management has 47,000 horses and burros up for adoption or being held off public lands and fed at your expense to the tune of $50 million each year. In addition to spending that $50 million each year to contain and feed all those animals, the BLM will pay up to an additional $1,000 as an incentive to get someone to adopt one of those animals.

Why are we spending all those tax dollars? Because the estimate is the public rangeland is capable of supporting 27,000 feral horses and burros, but there are 88,000 feral horse and burros still out on public lands causing environmental damage, threatening native species like bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, several species of lizards and ground-nesting birds.

The rangers at Death Valley National Park have said, “The burros are an invasive species. and they take a huge toll on the park’s ecosystem because they consume large amounts of vegetation and hog the water that vulnerable native species need to survive the harsh climate.” The feral horses along the Salt River are starving despite a feeding program and are destroying the riparian habitat.

Why are we not properly managing these invaders? Because feral burros are cute, and horses are part of the romantic west and have a seemingly all-powerful lobby persuading Congress and state legislators to ignore the reality on the ground and the science that says we need to do something to save our fragile desert habitats.

Can we have feral horses and burros on public lands? Yes, we can, but only if we manage them just as we do deer and elk and hundreds of other native species. That management is based on the science of habitat health. Without healthy habitat, nothing will survive.

When it comes to feral horses and burros, we are ignoring that science to the detriment of the southwest and all our native species. Can you explain how that makes any sense?

Neither can I.


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