The term “feral horse” refers to a free-roaming horse of domesticated stock. This does not make them wild, though some populations are managed as wildlife. This species has become a common nuisance due to its negative impact on local ecosystems. Feral horses have become the subject of many debates, and some argue that they should be eradicated, while others favor allowing them to continue living in their natural habitats.
Trampling is an indirect agent of erosion
Overgrazing by feral horses can contribute to soil erosion. Horses can walk 50 km to water and traverse hills, which cattle cannot. While horses have been credited with overgrazing, this association has not been proved. Since horse diet and cattle diet overlap, soil responses were difficult to differentiate. However, trampling is likely an even more detrimental component of feral horse grazing.
The effects of the horses’ grazing on semi-arid rangelands vary greatly, suggesting that the effects of horse grazing depend on site characteristics. In particular, trails are more likely to have compacted soils and low plant cover, and a high percentage of bare ground. However, areas adjacent to trails have more plant diversity, but soil strength is decreased. Hence, feral horse grazing may contribute to the degradation of native ecosystems.
Several studies have suggested that trampling is an indirect agent of soil erosion for Feral Horse. The condition of the range has deteriorated since the 1930s, when cattle and horses were first introduced to the area. In 1997, former managers of the range visited the range. In addition, root biomass decreased in simulated free-range ranges, which suggests that trampling is a significant factor in soil erosion.
In addition to trampling, feral horses also graze on steep terrain and disrupt plant evolution. In addition, they may compensate for the loss of natural movement patterns, which were important in the Pleistocene era. Similarly, the fragmentation of expansive grazing areas is further aggravated by a mix of private and public landowners and different agency policies. In addition, fencing restricts movement when forage is depleted, resulting in higher levels of herbivory than otherwise.
It can widen, become shallower and reduce flow speed
When horses walk over a stream, fine sediments settle between boulders and cobbles and widen the stream, reducing the speed of the water flowing through the channel. Stocky galaxias fish live in this stream and a trail can disrupt the habitat of these species. Furthermore, trails may spread weed seeds, which can be carried in manes and dung. This may negatively affect native plant life and wildlife.
It can spread harmful invasive grasses
A Feral Horse can spread invasive grasses, which can negatively affect ecosystems. Its habitat use overlaps with public lands and priority wildlife habitat management areas. Moreover, the horse’s diet is primarily comprised of graminoids, which promotes the growth of invasive grasses. Additionally, horses can disperse seeds from one area to another, reducing the suitability of the habitat for bird nesting.
The free-roaming feral horse, or burro, occupies a large portion of the public rangeland in western landscapes. The Bureau of Land Management manages these species in Herd Management Areas (HMAs), where they are allowed to roam on public land. The ten-million-acre range is divided into a number of herd management areas. These areas are important for the maintenance of healthy ecosystems because these animals trample crops, eat property, and prey on ground nesting birds. The horses are also carriers of more than 30 diseases, so eradicating these species from public land is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to have the wild horse mixed with livestock, this practice is injurious to native plants. Instead, wild horses should be managed in separate critical wilderness areas, where their presence is not harmful to native species. True wilderness areas, however, are not used for livestock purposes. In addition, wild horses are excellent wildfire grazers, reseeding native grasses and plants.
Although the impacts of grazing are similar, the impact of horses are significantly different from cattle. Cattle apply a constant grazing pressure all year round while free-roaming horses are largely dependent on pastureland. While cattle are primarily focused on the high ambient temperature and low precipitation, horses largely concentrate on riparian areas. Horses also reduce herbaceous cover and increase bare ground by trampling plants and soil. This redistributes soil nutrients and seeds. Since sage-grouse prefer taller forbs, a grazing animal can cause devastating effects to the habitat. Not only can sage-grouse and other wildlife thrive, they also protect chicks from predators.
It is a geomorphologic effect of feral horses
Feral horses have a variety of impacts on their environment. Their impact on trails varies, but generally the result is the same: reduced plant diversity, compacted soil, and a high percentage of bare ground. Areas adjacent to trails have a higher plant diversity and reduced soil strength, while the effect on trails is less noticeable. The biotic and geomorphologic effects of feral horses can be largely determined by how they affect individual species.
The effect of feral horses is evident in their hoofprints, which are deep in nature. In addition, these ungulates can penetrate through thin horizons of soil and create trails. In the case of Assateague Island, for example, these horses trampled the beach, dune, and shallow salt marsh. This damage was found to be much greater than previously thought.
While most animals found in the wild are not considered feral, horses are a special case. Feral horses cause a variety of effects on the vegetation on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. The animals cause trampling and erosion in areas outside the exclosures, and they provide information for managing biodiversity on the island. The effect of feral horses on soil quality is primarily attributed to the impact of grazing on the area.
In addition to degrading the habitat of animals, wild horses also negatively affect the habitats of wildlife. Since horses tend to limit recovery of shrubs, they are detrimental to the wildlife and plants that rely on them. In addition to this, unmanaged horse populations may affect the survival of species that rely on the sagebrush. There is an even greater chance that these animals will kill the wildlife and destroy the ecosystem.
It is a risk to the well-being of the horses
The BLM’s management of wild horses and burros poses serious risks for their long-term genetic and ecological viability. The federal government facilitated a forum in 1999 on the viability of wild horses. Experts and researchers said isolated herds with less than 200 animals were particularly vulnerable to genetic inbreeding. This can lead to reduced reproduction, reduced adult fitness, and physical deformities.
A rogue horse can also transmit a contagious disease such as strangles. The disease causes inflammation and extensive swelling of the mucosa and lymph nodes, and is accompanied by intense edema. Routine vaccination against strangles is necessary for horses that are at risk for exposure. However, natural infection can result in a carrier state in a horse, causing it to shed the ringworm occasionally.
Regardless of breed, the presence of feral horses poses a risk to the well-being of both wild and domesticated horses. Because they are not contained within one enclosure, they are constantly reducing the amount of vegetation in an area. This reduces the capacity of the soil for vegetation growth and makes the area vulnerable to erosion. The horses also reduce the diversity of seed stock in a landscape.
The American wild horse, takhi, and other species of horse that roam in the wild are considered feral. Feral horses are descended from horses that escaped from ranchers and indigenous horsemen. This breeding creates feral populations. These animals may have become extinct in a few decades, but it is possible to capture and return them to their herds.