Are Horses Invasive

Paul Gonzalez
• Sunday, 15 November, 2020
• 16 min read

To lovers of North America’;s wild horses, the mustangs link to their Ice Age relatives is far more important than their descent from introduced, domesticated horses. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the animals as an endangered species because open rang eland is reduced and also less fit to graze.

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(Source: smithfarminvasivespecies.wordpress.com)


Many environmentalists see both the cattle and the horses as invasive species that compact the land in unnatural ways, making it hard for native plants to grow, and that take up what should be habitat for wildlife. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the animals as an endangered species because open rang eland is reduced and also less fit to graze.

Many environmentalists see both the cattle and the horses as invasive species that compact the land in unnatural ways, making it hard for native plants to grow, and that take up what should be habitat for wildlife. To the two groups that filed the petition, Friends of Animals and the Cloud Foundation, this was the re-introduction of a native species, much like the federal government re-introduced the wolf and grizzly bear to the Yellowstone National Park area after they had been hunted to extinction through most of the nation.

It’s also a stretch to say that the Ice Age horse that went extinct thousands of years ago was, for most intents and purposes, the same as the one that now roams Western lands. Wolves were hunted to near-extinction in the lower 48 in about 1960; they made their reappearance about 20 years later, crossing over from Canada, and then were re-introduced to Yellowstone and Idaho in the 1990s.

It’s a rare bison that doesn’t have a strong strain of domesticated cattle in its blood. The musk oxen of Arctic Alaska aren’t natives; after those were hunted to extinction, new individuals were brought in from Greenland.

Considering that nature is not static, but rather is continually favoring some species over others, or bringing plants to places where they never lived before, how long does a plant need to hang around before it’s considered a legitimate resident and not an invader? The land that ancient wild horses trod was probably quite different from the range they graze today.

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Fish and Wildlife Service last month, asking it to protect a small herd of wild horses in Montana under the Endangered Species Act. The debate revolves around whether a species that is reintroduced to an environment thousands of years after going extinct can be classified, legally, as endangered, as well as the potential ramifications of doing so.

If the tens of thousands of wild horses that roam public lands in the West are given endangered species protection, it could establish a dangerous precedent for restrictions on cattle grazing and limits on development and outdoor recreation, critics say. “The Wild Horse and Burro Act really has become nothing more than a procedural hurdle for BLM to have to go through to do roundups and other types of population management,” said Mike Harris, director of the Wildlife Law Program for Friends of Animals.

The ancestor of all camels, known as the Camelots, evolved, thrived and went extinct in North America about 13,000 years ago, most likely suffering a similar fate as the horse. Camels were viewed as a viable resource to conquer the long overland trails and supply routes through dry and sometimes barren terrain.

On the other side of the issue is Maggie Nutter, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s board representative for Region VI (Montana and Idaho). She is very familiar with the horse herd that Friends of Animals has named in the lawsuit, which runs wild on a 43,000-acre range in the Pryor Mountain region of southern Montana and northern Wyoming.

“The Friends of Animals, they’re sincere people, and they want to preserve those horses and I can kind of understand that, but when you bring the Endangered Species Act into play, it isn’t necessarily the tool that they should use,” Nutter said. She believes that the BLM is currently doing a decent job at keeping the herd in check in relation to the environment, and recommends going to the Livestock Conservancy to assist in saving the horses and their genetics.

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Horses teeth get closer to the ground when they graze and nip grass shorter than cows do, loosening it from the soil at times and shrinking root growth. Nutter noted that the horse birth control efforts were expensive and not highly effective.

Rounding up and donating the horses, humanely putting them down or sending them to slaughter are viable choices to her. Another spoke in the wagon wheel of this Western dispute is a long-held tradition of the Crow Indian Tribe, which has been involved with the Pryor Mountain horse herd for hundreds of years.

The domestic horse's ancestors originate from the steppes of Eurasia. Thus, horses in North America do not fit in any situation that I am aware of.

Human beings want to stay on the fringe of nature, or they lose themselves. Bonding with a horse, having a significant different that we are able to take to the hills and mountains with, giving us the independence to bypass out like that, makes us experience sturdy.

The horse is an icon and this is a way for human beings to hook up with nature. In case you want to get into a finished different argument, you would possibly want to assert that human beings are an invasive species.

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Any species can be invasive if it is introduced into an ecosystem where it is not native. No, they really are not, although ANY species can become invasive if threatening and competing with native fauna in any given area.

Most of the evolutionary development of the horse had taken place In North America millions of years ago. In more modern times, horses have carved their own niche in the ecosystem of the west.

Because they graze different plants and plant parts than other species such as buffalo, antelope, and wild sheep, there is no real competition for food or territory. In the US, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulates the wild* horse population.

Every year Mustangs and burros (donkeys) are rounded up and sold to families or individuals that will tame and train them. Every year thousands of horses are sent to slaughter and are treated to horrific conditions.

*Wild horses in the America's are actually “feral” populations, descended from domesticated stock. They are often treated as pests and shot from helicopters to control the population.

wild pryor horse mustangs mountain horses mountains species invasive america stallions mustang habitat appeal case nevada advocates file mares together
(Source: www.habitatforhorses.org)

In Australia the feral populations compete with domestic livestock for food. Also, objective evaluations of their respective ecological niches and the mutual symbioses of post-gastric digesting, semi-nomadic equips support wild horses and burros as restorers of certain extensive North American ecosystems.

A Reserve Design strategy is proposed to establish naturally self-stabilizing equine populations that are allowed to harmoniously adapt over generations within their bounded and complete habitats. These populations should meet rigid standards for viability based on IUCN SSC assessments (2,500 individuals).

Basic requirements are described for successful Reserve Design including viable habitat as well as specific regions of North America where this could be implemented. Traditional Dakota/Lakota people firmly believe that the aboriginal North American horse did not become extinct after the last Ice Age, and that it was part of their pre-contact culture.

Scientists contend, however, that the aboriginal horse became extinct in North America during what is (known) as the “Pleistocene kill,” in other words, that they disappeared at the same time as the mammoth, the ground sloth, and other Ice Age mammals. Dakota/Lakota Elders as well as many other Indian nations contest this theory, and content that according to their oral history, the North American horse survived the Ice Age, and that they had developed a horse culture long before the arrival of Europeans, and, furthermore, that these same distinct ponies (sic) continued to thrive on the prairies until the latter part of the Sixth (19th) century, when the U.S. government ordered them rounded up and destroyed to prevent Indians from leaving the newly-created reservations.

Some biologists have pointed out that Elders could indeed be correct, for while the mammoth and other Pleistocene mammals died out during the last Ice Age in both continents, if the horse survived in Eurasia, there is no reason for it to have become extinct in North America, especially given similar environment and climate on the steppes and prairies. In Eurasia, scientists have been able to trace the domestication of the horse through extensive archaeological work, fossil remains, burials, middens (garbage heaps) and artifacts.

horses wild animals animal endangered north invasive america species there agri pulse pryor field ago years
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Such finds have, for instance, enabled them to determine that peoples there ate horses, buried them with notables, and helped them establish that men started riding about 3,500 B.C. Digs have also concentrated mainly on villages sites, but if prehistoric prairie Indians had the same aversions to eating horse meat as Dakota/Lakota people have today, then middens (garbage heaps) would not contain the necessary evidence either.

Dakota/Lakota burial customs are well documented: Bodies were placed on scaffolds on the prairies, and the bones were collected, cleaned and buried about one year later. Between 1984 and 1987, this writer conducted extensive research on the prairies to retrace the itinerary of Louis-Joseph LaVerendrie who left a village site near Bismark, North Dakota, on 23 July 1642, in an attempt to find the “People of the Horse.” He hoped they would take him to the “Western (China) Sea,” which Europeans had long sought in North America.

He traveled for 20 days, guided by two Mandate, and on 11 August (1642), he reached the “Mountain of the People of the Horse” where he waited 5 weeks for their arrival. In trying to locate this campsite, this writer used LaVerendrie’ s maps and diaries, as well as other documentation and interviewed numerous Elders and old ranchers.

According to Elders, the aboriginal pony had the following characteristics: It was small, about 13 hands, it had a “strait” back necessitating a different saddle from that used on European horses, wider nostrils, larger lungs so that its endurance was proverbial. One breed had a long mane, and shaggy (curly) hair, while another had a “singed mane.” This writer contacted a specialist in mammals and was told the Elders were describing the Tarzan and the Polish Przewalski horses, and that early, independent eyewitness accounts ought to be investigated to confirm the Dakota statements.

Prince Wilhelm had studied zoology, botany and related sciences under Dr. Secret, himself a student of Sussex, Xavier and Gay-Lussac. An English translation of his diary, titled First Journey to North America in the years 1822 to 1823, was published in 1938 by the South Dakota Historical Society.

horseweed arizona invasive northern plants identifying
(Source: www.nazinvasiveplants.org)

His memoirs show that he was a keen observer of the fauna and flora wherever he traveled, and it was interesting to note his remarks on the Indian pony’s characteristics: Other evidence exists which also militates in favor of the Indian position, that the aboriginal horse had already been tamed and ridden at the time of (white) contact.

“Now whether it was an unicorn, or a fibbed made by that wild man, yet (that) I cannot tell, but several others would me the same, who have seen several times the same beast, so that I firmly believe it.” “On the borders of Canada animals are now and again seen somewhat resembling a horse; they have cloven hoofs, shaggy manes, a horn right out of the forehead, a tail like that of a wild hog, black eyes, a stag’s neck, and love the gloomiest wilderness, are shy of each other, so that the male never feeds with the female except when they associate for the purpose of increase, then they lay aside their ferocity.

This same map, part of the CEDEX Condenses, at the Gilchrist Museum in Oklahoma, also shows that near the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri, where the Iroquois had seen his “unicorn,” there were indeed “Nations who have horses.” Since the Indian who manipulates the bow and arrow can not make use of the reins, he must leave the horse entirely to its own discretion.

It must run close to the powerful and often angry bull, and must be ready at all times to evade with the greatest swiftness the charges of the terrible opponent.” ’S. DAK. The interesting point here is that several years prior to 1657, these Prairie Indians were already expert horsemen, having developed remarkable riding and hunting skills.

The horse relies on its uncommonly keen eyesight and marvelously acute sense of smell to send it galloping off at any hint of danger. “Perhaps most important, the untamed horse is naturally likely to go all but berserk when anything lands on its back, simply because it has learned through the millennia that anything is likely to be a predator.

wild horses mustangs invasive calling stop please arizona roaming wikimedia commons
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Thus, if man had dreamed of riding the horse much earlier than he did, he could hardly have expected a hospitable reception from the animal that one day would become his partner.” (Triplet, 1974:47). Thus, Triplet explains why inhabitants of the steppes only began riding about 3,500 B.C., thousands of years after they first appeared on that continent.

The same reasons, however, would seem to preclude Prairie Dakotas from being so bold and so skillful, so quickly, not to mention adopting an entirely new horse culture in an exceedingly short time. It has been argued that Indians had seen Spanish riders, and thus had developed their astonishing equestrian skills, but an example from the Middle East, where a similar situation occurred, shows the time required from the arrival of this “strange beast” into culture, to when its people rode awkwardly for several generations after it first appeared among them, even when experts were there to teach them.

The horse is aboriginal to North America, and biologists can offer no scientific reasons for its extinction here and not in Eurasia. The astounding horsemanship of Prairie Dakotas within a few years of the appearance of the “Spanish horse,” argues for this having been a traditional skill.

In this instance, no one can deny a long-standing prejudice against Indians, and the efforts which were made to minimize their accomplishments in many areas, and to discount oral history. Horses definitely originated here, and whether the few remaining ponies (sic) are throwbacks, or are they actual descendants, they are a living testimony of the state’s contribution to the advancement of many civilizations throughout the world.

Every horse in the world can be traced to a single mare that trotted the earth about 130,000 to 160,000 years ago, scientists discovered for the first time. The study helps pinpoint the time when humans began domesticating horses, though it was known to be after dogs, sheep, pigs and cattle.

invasive horse weed species tail weeds horsetail rid getting
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The research may also help scientists classify horse fossils, figure out the pedigree of modern breeds and perhaps evaluate how genetics affect racehorse performance, said Samantha Brooks, an assistant professor of equine genetics at Cornell University, in a telephone interview. The study, led by Alessandro Chili, a researcher in the department of cellular and environmental biology at the University di Persia in Italy, analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which contains genes that are essential for the cell’s energy functions.

At least one horse domestication happened in Western Europe, possibly in the Iberian Peninsula, the authors wrote. The magic of the horse originated on this land, then culminated globally and marked a turning point in the history of mankind.

In our evolution it is historic fact that wild horses originated and fully developed on the North American continent. It is fortunate for man that some of those wild horses drifted across the Bering Land Bridge to Eurasia, because those remaining on the northern continent were subject to a big die-off 10,000 years ago; as is the case for many species throughout time for various reasons.

This of course isolated pockets of humanity and life forms, including horses, until two-legged travel by water evolved. Recorded history tells us that around 4000 BC man’s interactive relation with the horse was put in motion.

Thanks to our documented history, we are able to know that wild horses are not feral, for all bloodlines always lead back to their native birthplace. Native North American horses went extinct about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as many other large-bodied species of the period.

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Three tons of excavated specimens were sent to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., producing five nearly complete skeletons, more than 100 skulls, and forty-eight lower jaws along with numerous isolated bones. Paleontologists believe that an entire herd of these animals were probably swept away and drowned by flood waters, ending up buried and fossilized in the soft sands of this river bottom.

1) Wild horses didn’t become extinct in North America and remnants of the ancient herds were still present in this hemisphere when Columbus landed in the New World in 1492. 2) Mustangs on public lands are a feral, invasive species, introduced into an environment where they are not native and should not be allowed to roam.

The two claims are at opposite extremes of an ongoing debate that surrounds the federal government’s wild horse roundups in the West. Modern horses evolved in North America about 1.7 million years ago, according to researchers at Appeal University, who studied equine DNA.

Scientists say North American horses died out between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, after the species had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa. Animals that subsequently escaped or were let loose from human captivity are the ancestors of the wild herds that roam public lands today.

That’s the theory, but revisionists point out that some sources, including the Book of Mormon and Native American cultural tradition, say horses have been continually present on the continent long after the last Ice Age. Many scientists once thought horses died out on the continent before the arrival of the ancestors of the American Indians, but archeologists have found equine and human bones together at sites dating back to more than 10,000 years ago.

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They are “native” rather than “livestock-gone-loose,” because they originated here and co-evolved with the American habitat, according to Jay F. Kirkpatrick, director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont. That finding contradicts critics who maintain the original North American horses and the ones that were reintroduced aren’t the same animals.

The horses were “reintroduced” to the continent, unlike the Asian clams in Tahoe or the rabbits of Australia, which were inserted into regions where Nature never put them and where they could disrupt the ecological balance. Truth Meter: 1 Given what we know about the history and evolution of horses in North America, both claims are false.

Decreased productivity of forage crops totals an additional $1 billion annually. Moreover, some invasive plants are toxic to livestock and wild ungulates (e.g., leafy spurge and cattle).

Many of the invasive plants were introduced for food, fiber, soil stabilization, or ornamental purposes. However, the spread of invasive plants has dramatically increased in recent decades because of greater local to global transportation of people and commodities and disturbances (fire, road construction, etc.).

Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify how invasive plants are introduced into ecosystems and thwart their spread. Campbell and Gibson (2001) reported 23 invasive plant species germinated and grew from horse manure samples in a greenhouse study, but only one invasive plant species became established in the trail plots in Illinois.

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The owner of each horse provided information on his/her home location so the travel time could be approximated. Information was also obtained on the horse’s access to pasture versus dry paddock, and hay source.

One sub-sample of each material was placed in a labeled bag and transported back to Madison, Wisconsin, for the germination study. No non-native plants grew in the pots containing manure and hoof scraping samples from the nine rides.

Common non-native plants inventoried in the pot study were yellow star thistle (Centaur ea solstitialis L.), Canada thistle (Cesium adverse (L.) Stop. Yellow star thistle originated from the Old World and probably arrived in California in the mid-1800s as a contaminant in alfalfa seed.

Canada thistle is native to southeast Europe and Asia, and was likely introduced to the United States in the 1700s as a contaminant of crop seed. Although seeds of non-native invasive plant were present in hay samples, and germinated in the pots, the results from the trail plots were striking different.

No non-native plants occurred in any plots on the trail that contained hay, manure, or hoof debris samples (data not shown). The results from this study corroborate the results of Campbell and Gibson (2001) who also found successful germination and establishment of invasive plants was significantly lower in the trail plots (one species) than greenhouse study (23 species).

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Collectively these studies provide compelling evidence that horses are not an important source for the introduction of non-native plants. Finally, roads and trails increase the amount of light reaching the ground and as a result multiple strata of vegetation (e.g., grasses and forms, shrubs, understory trees, over story trees) exist at the edge of the trails.

I adopted the USDA National Resource Conservation Service classification system because it provided a consistent database across all six states and it allowed me to compare the results of this study to the eastern USA study (Power 2008). Important commercial plant species used as forage for livestock and soil erosion control have been classified as weeds in horse-weed studies.

Interestingly, plants such as lespedeza, that Campbell and Gibson classified as exotic (following Mohlenbrock 1986), are not on the USDA Arcs noxious weed list for Illinois. Almost 60% of the individual plants classified as a weed in a pack horse study in Colorado were Kentucky bluegrass.

The lack of consistent definitions and standard state or federal list creates unnecessary confusion in the scientific literature, which adversely affects management and policy decisions. The results of this study will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to provide credibility to the research.

However, my 20-plus years of research has made one thing very clear: land managers do not have time to read scientific journals. If we wish to maintain or improve trail use policy it is essential that we provide land managers and politicians with the necessary information to make sound ecological decisions.

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I can only presume they work closely with private and state land managers to ensure access to trials. Investing in waste manure and hay management facilities at trail heads would be a proactive management activity that would further decrease the small chance of weeds becoming established in horse camps and trail heads.

The 0% germination and establishment rate of weeds from hay, manure and hoof debris plots on the horse trails at the nine study sites illustrates the difficult physical and environmental conditions that seedlings experience during the critical germination and establishment phase. The effect of seeds of exotic species transported vie horse dung on vegetation along trail corridors.

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