Feral horses are out of control in the American West, laying waste to vast tracts of wildlife habitat and imperiling native species. What's worse, the public seems determined to keep it that way.
Michael Hutchins, who as the director and CEO of the Wildlife Society represents 10,000 wildlife professionals, told me this when I asked for his predictions: "I don't think taking horses off public land and sticking them in corrals is sustainable. The cost just keeps going up and up and up. And when money is limited, how you spend it becomes an ethical issue. I think we need to give [surgical] sterilization a try, but that's going to take many, many years. And what if it doesn't work? Do we need to go back to considering lethal control? We have to be realistic. Are we going to continue to let horses degrade the American West? Just as with the feral-cat problem you wrote about, these are the decisions our government is going to have to make if it wants to protect native habitats and wildlife. If it's not going to make these decisions, I don't have a lot of hope for the future."
If there are rays of hope, they lie in the tough stands being taken by groups like the Wildlife Society, the alarm sounded by the GAO in its 2008 report, and the fact that the ROAM bill appears stalled in the Senate. The word in Washington is that the Salazar Initiative was merely a strategy for derailing that legislation. If so, maybe our Interior Secretary struck the only blow for horse-blighted wildlife that America's current mindset allows. And maybe he'll do more in the future.