Rewilding would be a great idea if done right. If done without balance it could be considered horse dumping.
A true rewilding of wild horses MUST include some form of population control until such time as their apex predators (lions, bears and wolves) are also reintroduced in numbers that control the populations of not only horses but also cervids and other species that affect the lands and riparian areas by overgrazing.
A “rewilding” when there is no plan in place for population management can lead to a bad situation. We spoke to folks who are taking horses from BLM holding pens to ‘rewild’ them on tribal lands When asked if they made sure the BLM horses they were taking were treated with PZP, the answer was ‘no, but that they only took mares so it was no problem’…. (my indigenous relatives just lol’d because stallions are present on the reservations so they will find this mare only group).
This behavior is going to lead to wild horse population problems like those we see on the Navajo, Warm Springs, Yakima…etc etc reservations. A true rewilding is more than dumping one species onto land, it is a rewilding of the ecosystem, it is bringing nature back into balance so that human interference is not needed, or noticed anymore.
As we recently saw in the study released on wolves in Yellowstone, apex predators control cervid populations and would create a trophic cascade. This would be the situation we would see if apex predators were to regain their habitats in wild horse territories (and we mean wolves, bears, and lions):
- control wild horse, cervid and yes livestock populations,
- decrease the impacts of grazing,
- decrease water or riparian area usage,
- the recovery of various plant species,
- stream sides to regain plant growth
- decreased erosion of streamsides or banks
- increased shade type vegetation
- cooler water temperatures,
- increasing survival of marine species marine species
- decreased widening of banks,
- increasing water depth
- bringing beavers back
- dams increasing pools where wildlife can drink
- increase shrub growth (from decreased grazing)
- better protection of species such as greater sage grouse
- decreased incidence and spread of prion-related diseases (mad cow, scrapie, chronic wasting disease) as populations are decreased first by sick and impaired animals
The list goes on to include more and more effects in a trophic cascade when true rewilding is taking place. So WHY isn’t this a management plan we see being implemented by our federal agencies? Why aren’t hinters interested in their big game species being healthy and free of chronic wasting disease that CAN transfer to humans through ingestion of meat? Those answers all lead back to the third set of animals controlled by these apex predators…livestock.
The killing of livestock by predators, even though the livestock producer is reimbursed for their dead animal, is seen as a cost to the profit line but is it really big enough to be the complete story?
No, of course, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that when we protect populations of apex predators, such as wolves, and they are listed on the Endangered Species list this means that public lands ranchers (and this part applies to extractive industries using public lands too) are going to have restrictions in these habitats known to be used by that endangered species. This is why western states are scrambling, tripping over themselves to make promises to manage sage grouse habitat…they don’t want them listed.
It may mean less land is available, or fencing may not be permitted, or killing predators may not be allowed…and again this all shows in their bottom line. Right now our country is at a critical junction. Lawmakers or going to choose to protect our western heritage, or protect the profits that continue to flow out of our public lands to the hands of the wealthy, commercial industry.
When you vote in November:
- know where the candidates stand on public lands issues
- know if they vote for NEPA protections
- know if they vote to protect the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- know if they vote to protect the Environmental Protection Act (EPA)
- Know if they vote to keep protections of wolves, bear, and even wild horses in the budget bills
- and know where their campaign money is coming from
If you need help finding these things out watch for part 2 of this article where we will bring in our partners in the UVOTE Coalition to help you find these answers.
This article was prompted by the August 30th article:
The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park is tied to the recovery of aspen in areas around the park, according to a new study.
The study was published today in the journal Ecosphere.
“This is the first large-scale study to show that aspen is recovering in areas around the park, as well as inside the park boundary, said Luke Painter, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. Wolves were reintroduced to the park in 1995. The study shows their predation on elk is a major reason for new growth of aspen, a tree that plays an important ecological role in the American West.
Wolves are culling the elk herd, adding to the effects of bears, cougars, and hunters outside the park, which means less elk are browsing on aspen and other woody species. The presence of wolves has also resulted in most of the elk herd spending winter outside of the park, Painter said. Before wolf restoration, even when elk numbers were similarly low, most of the elk stayed in the park.
“What we’re seeing in Yellowstone is the emergence of an ecosystem that is more normal for the region and one that will support greater biodiversity,” Painter said. “Restoring aspen in northern Yellowstone has been a goal of the National Park Service for decades. Now they’ve begun to achieve that passively, by having the animals do it for them. It’s a restoration success story.”
Elk numbers in northern Yellowstone have declined from a high of nearly 20,000 in 1995 — the year wolves were restored to the park — to 7,579 counted over two days in January by biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and Yellowstone National Park.
The study answers the question of whether the return of wolves to Yellowstone could have a cascading effect on ecosystems outside the park, Painter said, where there is much more human activity such as hunting, livestock grazing, and predator control. There has also been skepticism surrounding the extent and significance of aspen recovery, he said.
“We show that the recovery of aspen is real and significant, though patchy and in early stages, and occurring throughout the region where elk population densities have been reduced,” he said. “Also important is that the regional distribution of elk has changed, and not just their number, and this is reflected by young aspen growing taller in winter ranges in and near the park. Meanwhile, elk densities have increased farther from the park. Other factors besides wolves affected elk, but wolves played an essential role in these changes.”
The researchers surveyed aspen from 2011-2015 in three winter ranges in the Yellowstone region. They compared that data to aspen surveys in 1997-98 in the park’s Northern Range, Gallatin National Forest Northern Range, and the Sunlight/Crandall Range, which provided a baseline for aspen conditions when wolves were beginning to colonize these areas.
They found that if elk densities were greater than about four elk per square kilometer, aspen were heavily browsed and suppressed. Elk densities in the Yellowstone region were generally greater than this prior to wolf reintroduction. With high elk densities, starvation was common and elk ate whatever was available, but with lower elk densities their effects are not so uniform, allowing for a patchy reduction in browsing and release of young aspen to grow taller.
“Our findings represent another piece of the puzzle as we’re trying to understand the role of predation in the ecology of the Rocky Mountain region,” Painter said. “Much of the research ecologists have done has been in the absence of non-human predators. Before the reintroduction of wolves, most experts didn’t think it was going to make much difference for aspen. Wolves didn’t cause aspen recovery all by themselves, but it is safe to say it would not have happened without them.”
Materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Luke E. Painter, Robert L. Beschta, Eric J. Larsen, William J. Ripple. Aspen recruitment in the Yellowstone region linked to reduced herbivory after large carnivore restoration. Ecosphere, 2018; 9 (8): e02376 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2376