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Zoo Logic

Dec 6, 2018

Have wild horses become America's tribble? 

Guests from the Arizona Department of Game and Fish discuss the contentious subject of US wild horse policy, which is often marked by passions and frustration on all sides. Congress passed the landmark 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horse and Burros Act to preserve those specific “unbranded and unclaimed” animals on public lands from steep declines in the preceding decades. Unlike native wildlife species, these feral horses have had a unique legal standing and separate multiple federal agency oversight, which has contributed to the confusion, frustration, disagreement, and anger over their management in recent decades. It might surprise many to know there are 3 times as many formerly designated wild horses living, cared for, and fed in fenced federal facilities than the current management level set for public lands. And, the current estimate of wild horses roaming on public lands is slightly greater than 3 times the management level set at 27000 animals.

The history of the wild horse over the past 50 years points to the need for us to consider how we deal with a conservation success story! While their recovery is still the conservation exception rather than the rule, the story of the wild horse challenges us today to consider what legal, oversight, and management adjustments we need to make once species do recover in order to maintain stability for all native plant and animal species.

Our guests this week from the State of Arizona Department of Game and Fish talk about the (over) population success of the nearly 50-year old law and the challenges these large bodied herbivores place on a western habitat that no longer resembles the one experienced by their long extinct and distant North American ancestors of 10-12 thousand years ago. The US is not alone in struggling with the issues raised by wild horses. Countries like Australia face similar public debates about the impacts on native species and habitats by these animals with no natural predators and with as much as a 20% population increase per year.

It’s an important conversation about the often competing needs of native versus feral animals and the courageous decisions needed to restore and maintain sustainable habitats for all native plant and animal species, as well as, America's iconic wild horses and burros.