Wednesday, April 13, 2011
On April 7th, I had the opportunity to testify before a Congressional sub-committee in support of H.R. 306, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.
The bill, introduced by Congressman Walter B. Jones, would allow for a target herd size of 120 – 130 with never fewer than 110. The current herd size is 108 but the current management plan calls for a maximum of 60. DNA testing in 2008 by renowned equine geneticist Dr. E. Gus Cothran of Texas A & M University, indicated that the Corolla herd had one of the lowest levels of genetic diversity anywhere and that there were high levels of inbreeding at a herd size of 90.
Sub-committee Chair, John Fleming (R-LA) said in his opening statement:
“I find it curious that the Fish and Wildlife Service feels these beautiful horses whose ancestors arrived on the shores of North Carolina nearly 500 years ago to be “not native to this ecosystem” and “pest animals.” Yet the same agency has spent millions of dollars trying to protect, restore, and save the population of such listed species as the Delhi Sands fly, delta smelt, Kangaroo rats, New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnakes and Texas blind salamanders. I suspect that more than a few Americans would find these species to be “pests.”
Testifying in opposition were Greg Siekaniec (Asst. Director, National Wildlife Refuge System) and Michael Hutchins, Executive Director, The Wildlife Society.
Testimony and video can be viewed at http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=232175
Both Mr. Siekaniec and Mr. Hutchins testified first. Mr. Siekaniec testified that the wild horse range had recently been reduced from 12,000 acres to 7,500 acres because of development. He used this statement to justify his claim that this forces more horses onto the refuge property. I could not address this statement directly in my testimony because I was not given his testimony in advance, and witnesses can not interact with one another. We are asked questions by the committee members.
Mr. Siekaniec was dead wrong. The map was revised by USFWS staff in 2009 because it was incorrect. The 12,000 acres included areas that were inaccessible to the horses. The revised map showed actual accessible habitat. No habitat was lost what-so-ever by development. It was merely a more accurate representation of the wild horse range. Mr. Siekanic also referenced $100,000 that was spent by USFWS on horse management this year. WHAT? He mentioned a horse trailer and darting equipment. That equipment was purchased in 2007 through a cooperative grant between USFWS and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and did not come out of their operating funds even then. It was a one-time grant. Their current exclosure study (which includes the impact of feral hogs and deer, not just horses) is part of a $50,000 grant in partnership with NCSU.
The best statement award though goes to Michael Hutchins. He said, “It’s all about values. Do we want to protect our native wildlife, or turn our national refuges into theme parks for exotic animals?” Theme parks for exotic animals? Come on now.
These horses were on this land long before we were and certainly long before USFWS purchased it. The maximum number of horses ever counted on their 2,500 acres is 35 - and in 2009 – there was a whopping 0!
We are not asking for hundreds of horses. We are asking for the same target population that was been successfully managed at Cape Lookout National Seashore with acceptable impact, for the last 13 years, on half the land available to the Corolla horses. We don’t want elephants, or cheetahs, zebras or any other “exotic” animal – just a healthy and viable herd of critically endangered/nearly extinct Colonial Spanish Mustangs. I know that the Department of Interior defines wild horses as “invasive,” “nuisance,” “pest,” and “exotic” animals but that’s a whole other debate for another time.
Let the members of the Natural Resources Committee know that YOU strongly support the passage of H.R. 306. http://naturalresources.house.gov/About/Members.htm