The Bureau of Land Management has stirred up some serious controversy by accusing wild horses of destroying range lands in the United States.
Fossil records show that equines lived in North America as early as 55 million years ago, so labeling the horse an “invasive species” in the U.S. is not uncontroversal. Once upone a time, the wild horse was definitely an important part of the U.S. mega fauna.
Nowadays, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is culling wild horses, claiming that they are destroying range lands through over population. This claim, and the decision to cull, has met with restistance from the General Accounting office and the National Academy of Science, how argue that BLM has never presented any actual scientific evidence that wild horses are destructive to the habitats where they live in the U.S. Also, the BLM has been asked to provide proof of the size of the populations that they claim are “over populating” the range lands.
Cattle instead of horses?
In several notable cases, wild horses have been removed – ostensably to save the range land from over grazing and trampling – only to be quickly replaced by cattle who definitely graze and trample as well.
Cattle causes uprooting
It has been established that while cattle is known to uproot plants, horses are not. Cattle have not upper teeth, so they need to use their tongue to pull grass into their mouth. Horses on the other hand have teeth in both the upper and lower jaw, so they can simply bite off the plant above the ground; no need to uproot it.
Uprooting plants is more destructive than simply biting them off above the soil. For many species, new stems and leaves can shoot up from the root when the horses have moved on. When a plant is uprooted, this can not happen. Also, the upprooting of plants exposes bare and disturbed soil, and this can cause carbon to be released into the atmosphere.
The horse is a seed disperser
Compared to that of cattle, the digestive tract of a horse is much more likely to allow a seed to pass through intact and undigested. Horse are therefore excellent seed dispersers compared to cattle.
Horses are better for riparian zones
A riparian zone is the interface between land and a river or stream. The preservation of riparian zone is important for many reasons; two of them being that riparian zones tend to promote biodiversity and have the ability to help with soil conservation. Riparian strips of preserved vegetation along rivers and streams can also be of vital importance for the migration of species, e.g. when a river moves through an area that is otherwise utilized for farming or other human activities.
In a study carried out by a team of Russian scientists in 2001, cattle turned out to be more destructive to riparian zones than horses. In this study, the horses would just drink water and then move on, while cattle was more likely to hang around and cause damage, including bank soil erosion.
Various power want the horses gone
Cattle owners aren’t the only ones who want to see the wild horses gone from the range lands. In recent years, enterprises involved in mineral mining and natural gas hydraulic fracturing have also proved to be a force to be reckoned with for those who wish to preserve the wild horses.