The ongoing feral horse debate is a prime example of a small special-interest group getting its way and creating an unsustainable public program ("Nowhere to Run," HCN, 11/12/12).
Feral horses are a serious threat to our native ecosystems. Research has shown that areas inhabited by feral horses have fewer plant species and less grass and overall plant cover compared to areas without feral horses. Impacts to native wildlife, especially threatened and endangered species, are significant in terms of habitat degradation and dollars diverted away from their management. The rapid growth in number of horses, now at an estimated (captive) population of 47,000, and the current cost of the program -- $70 million-plus -- make the status quo unsustainable and insane public policy.
A more sustainable model already exists. The Little Book Cliffs horse herd north of Grand Junction, Colo., roams a 36-square-mile fenced area, free from livestock grazing, with natural barriers to contain the horses. The herd is located close to a human population center, allowing public viewing opportunities. Periodic roundups and fertility control has kept the herd in balance with its habitat at a reasonable cost. Setting up three or four of these "contained" herds across the West could put this program back on an ecologically and financially sustainable path. The humane removal of feral horses from all other public lands and closure of long-term holding facilities would then be necessary, along with allowing euthanasia and the use and export of horse meat for human and pet consumption. The alternative is for this program to go off the "fiscal cliff."