Rewilding Horses Helps to Mitigate Effects of the Megadrought
We are living in a time where climate change is showing itself in multiple ways affecting all our lives. The western plains states are facing a megadrought and each year it becomes more severe. As water is continually dried up from the environment due to rising temperatures and aridification, plants are driven out as they cannot survive in the new dry conditions. Subsequently, animals face extinction as they have nothing to feed on. Biodiversity lessens in the environment as a whole, and dry shrubs take over in the absence of native wildlife. This situation leads to an increase in destructive wildfires in the Western United States. These fires devastate vast amounts of land, release mass amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and destroy lives. Mass amounts of resources are being employed to combat this phenomenon in a variety of different ways. One of these is a more natural solution involving horses.
Environmental rewilding is a process that could help to aid in this situation, specifically with wild horses. As a native species, wild horses would be released onto land that they belong on, and they would bring benefits to the environment with them. Wild horses are a keystone species, so they provide invaluable ecosystem services and create biodiversity through their presence. They provide natural fertilizer through their manure, keeping the grasslands healthy and increasing humus in the soil. Also, horses only have one stomach as opposed to a cow’s four, so plant seeds are not digested and are redistributed back into the soil. Pertinent to this situation, they feed on invasive species that would run rampant without their presence. By grazing on the shrubbery and dry overgrown vegetation, they simultaneously remove fuel that could be fuel for a wildfire and open up the environment for native species to return, thus increasing biodiversity. Wild horses that would otherwise be rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and kept in holding facilities could be rewilded in this way, giving them better lives. This plan is an advantageous venture on multiple fronts for the horses, the environment, and humanity.
Despite this seeming like a completely positive situation, the rhetoric behind having wild horses graze to prevent wildfires could lead to very harmful outcomes. Horses undeniably provide valuable ecosystem services by preventing detrimental wildfires through grazing. However, pushing for this has the potential to be a catalyst to send wild horses to dangerous environments for them, such as deserts where water is scarce and their health could be compromised. Wild horses are not tools to use as a “solution” to this issue, they are animals that deserve to be treated ethically and with humanity. Grazing is an aspect of their natural processes, and this should not be taken advantage of to put them in harm's way. Horses should perform their natural services on their own time in a suitable environment without human interference. The BLM has a terrible track record dealing with the treatment of wild horses, and this could further this mistreatment, just in a different setting. Wild horses benefit their environment in many different ways as described earlier, and rewilding will bring all of these into fruition as the needed natural processes take place and the environment is conserved.