Horses among the country’s most prolific invasives
Ask the average Ohioan to name an invasive wildlife species and he or she will answer Asian carp, zebra mussels, wild hogs, emerald ash borer, or some other bothersome critter from the Far East or Europe.
But in Nevada (where I spend winters) and nine other Western states, horses are among the most problematic invasives.
Yep partner, I said "horses."
In case you forgot your fourth-grade American history, Spanish explorers brought the first horses to North America. Those beautiful four-legged creatures that helped settle the country and continue to fill our sport and leisure hours with fun and companionship are not native to the continent.
Like most invasive species, they multiply rapidly – especially on the West's open range land where thousands of wild horses stomp out native plants, carry disease, and meddle with ranch stock.
And did I mention that hundreds of horses starve each winter in the wild?
A recent editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said the federal Bureau of Land Management sets a sustainable population of wild horses and burros across the West at no more than 27,000. But there are that many roaming Nevada alone!
The BLM conducts periodic round-ups in an effort to control the wild horse population. The agency pens and feeds about 50,000 of these animals annually. It has tried sterilization and adoption programs to reduce the number. But those programs are expensive and generally don't work. And the law prohibits the sale of these wild horses to slaughterhouses.
Americans don't hunt or eat horses. Mental pictures of wild herds galloping across an open plain are part of our collective national memory. We hold horses – even the wild ones – dear.
And that's a problem for ranchers and Western ecosystems.
Two Nevada lawmakers recently tip-toed into the controversy by asking for information on "humane euthanasia" of BLM-held wild horses. But, chances are animal welfare lobbyists in Washington and equine lovers will scream "bloody murder" to any plan that systematically puts horses to sleep.
So the next time you're walking a Lake Erie beach covered with zebra mussel shells, remember the invasive problem could be bigger and come with four legs.