Sunday, June 7, 2009
The Path to Protection
Since euthanization of Spec, who was hit by a driver who again heartlessly left another horse to suffer in agony, we have received more e mails and letters than I can count. Many have asked, “Why aren’t these horses better protected?” and “What is your organization doing to find protection?”
Some history is necessary before anyone can understand just how far we have come in the last two and a half years. Did you know that in 1926, there were five to six thousand wild horses all up and down the Outer Banks? (National Geographic) Now there are 98 north of Corolla and 127 on Shackleford Banks (Cape Lookout National Seashore). What happened to all those horses over the last 73 years? They had no protection. In fact, when the National Park Service began buying the land that is now the Hatteras Island National Seashore, there was a bounty placed on wild horses in 1938. Wild horses have never been recognized as native wildlife and are still considered today to be a “feral,” “invasive species” or “pest animal” by the Department of the Interior (US Fish & Wildlife and National Park Service) and the North Carolina Estuarine Research Reserve.
From the 1950s up until the late '80s, removal of the horses was standard operating procedure for the National Park service, which owns and manages a large portion of the Outer Banks. In addition, anyone who wanted a wild horse could just capture it and sell it if they wished. That is one of the reasons that we have no horses that are any color other than bay, sorrel, black, or chestnut. The unusually colored horses were caught by residents and sold off years ago.
It is commonly but mistakenly believed that the wild horses of Corolla live on a protected sanctuary. They do not. Although defined as a wild horse sanctuary, seventy percent of the land they roam is privately owned by individuals and limited partnerships. Out of the 7,544 acres available, the North Carolina Estuarine Research Reserve owns 331 acres, the Nature Conservancy owns 62 acres, United States Fish & Wildlife owns approximately 2,500, and the rest is private land. There are over 3,000 platted lots on the private land and over 1300 houses. The beach is the road and the only way that residents and vacation rentals can reach their homes.
The wild horses on Shackleford Banks (Cape Lookout National Seashore) – genetically the same breed as the Corollas (registered Colonial Spanish Mustangs) have been federally protected since 1997.These horses are managed by the National Park Service who once took steps to remove them. The Shackleford Banks Act, written by US Congressman Walter Jones, mandates not only that the herd be managed at a healthier number than the Corolla herd (120 – 130 as opposed to 60 - but that’s a whole other topic) it also makes doing what has been done to our horses (7 shot and 2 hit) a FEDERAL OFFENSE. The Shackleford herd roams 3,000 acres of land owned solely by the National Park Service, not inhabited, and accessible only by boat.
In 1989, Currituck County enacted a Wild Horse Ordinance as the Corolla area was exploding with development and horse/human interactions were becoming more frequent. There is a link to the ordinance on our home page. If it were not for the efforts of the county, there would be no consequences for impacting the life of a Corolla wild horse at all. We are grateful to the county for their foresight as it is still the only protection that they have.
To make a complex and lengthy saga short, we have been working tirelessly to acquire the same level of protection for the Corolla horses as the Shackleford horses enjoy. It is complex because the Corolla horses roam state, federal, AND private land and the missions of the state and federal agencies are in conflict with the presence of the horses.
Those are just a few of the many obstacles on the path to protection but we HAVE made progress. DNA testing and registration by the Horse of the Americas registry confirms the Spanish origin of the wild horses. Congressman Jones was here in Corolla last October and other legislators have been receptive as well. We have just finished up a project with the Currituck School District that involved primary, elementary, and middle school students in a letter writing campaign. Hundreds of students wrote letters asking that the Colonial Spanish Mustang be designated the North Carolina State Horse and both Representative Bill Owens and Senator Marc Basnight have indicated that they will sponsor and support such legislation. Students in Dare County will be participating in the fall and we hope to have at least a thousand letters for a formal presentation in November.
The children of Currituck and Dare Counties are standing up for the horses. If you live in North Carolina and have a child or classroom that would like to participate, visit our home page and click on the NC State flag. Or just read what some of the children have written – it will inspire you.
If you aren’t a member of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, please become one now. Members are voters and voters give the horses a much needed voice. I need to be able to show our federal legislators that thousands of people, all over the country, believe that these horses are worthy of preservation and protection. Don’t they deserve the same protection as their wild relatives on Shackleford Banks? Perhaps if they are the state horse of North Carolina we will be one step closer.