Feds Want to Disappear Half of Outer Banks’ Wild Horses for Birds That Don’t Live There

If you’ve been to the Outer Banks lately, you know what they need desperately:  more church-sized beach houses.  Especially in the $500,000-plus bracket. Well, that and T-shirt shops. So, the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally saved the day. They will put an end to this wild horse nonsense on the north end of Corolla by cutting the herd in half.

Here’s how Tom Breen of the AP puts it in his excellently reported story: “A boom in vacation homes in the last 25 years in this remote place has seen the descendants of colonial Spanish mustangs confined to a 7,500-acre sanctuary on the northern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And now the herd itself may shrink along with its habitat.”

Now, even FWS isn’t crass enough to say they want to kill off horses to make way for mega mansions. But basically the wildlife service still thinks of wild mustangs as an exotic species it is forced to tolerate by horsey-minded people who just don’t understand science. Along with the Bureau of Land Management, which manages cutting wild horse herd size out west, it tries to get rid of horses at every opportunity.

No one is sure where the horses came from, whether they were dumped by the Spanish 400 years ago or somebody later. So, they aren’t technically native. But horses did originate in North America and were wiped out around the time what we now call Native Americans  showed up 10,000 – 15,000 years ago. Or at least that’s when the last fossils are from.

The FWS plan would cut the herd, which is now about 115, to a target of 60. Actually, it’s not a new plan. It’s the old plan from 1997, when they weren’t sure how many horses were there.

The official reason the FWS gives is that the wild horses compete with “federally protected birds.”

Which birds are those? Whatever they are, they’re not important enough to even mention on the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge site. A 2008 plan says that horses and feral pigs push out native mammals, but don’t say which ones. The same plan describes the island’s federally listed  species. Two are birds, the bald eagle and the piping plover. Then it goes on to describe how eagles don’t nest there, but live across the water in Mackay. And that one annual survey found one piping plover while another found 13. Eagles eat fish. Plovers eat sea worms and bugs.  Have you ever seen a horse fishing? Or given one worms as a treat?

Piping  plovers are those endangered little birds that annoy beach-goers across the eastern seaboard. They build delicate nests in the sand, which forces beach managers to fence off large chunks of land. Now, it’s certainly possible a horse would trample one. But the Outer Banks is one huge, non-stop festival of off-road vehicles and beach driving. If you let the air out of your tires a little, even regular cars can and do drive up and down the beaches. If I found a mushed plover on the beach, my prime suspect would be a car, not a horse. But, oddly, the FWS isn’t making a move to stop car traffic. (There would be an uproar if they did.)

Getting rid of wild horses certainly would do anything to help the six companies that guide people to see them. Or the millions drawn to the islands because of their charm–whether they see them or not. Or even the current home owners. Shore Realty, big real estate firm there, boasts “Corolla has a year round population of about 500 residents, not including the wild horses that roam the area.” Last year 80 homes sold, with a median price of $551,000 and an average price of $742,390. Four years earlier 229 houses sold for a median price of $829,900 and an average price of $1,004,987.

The Carolla Wild Horse Fund is pushing a bill in Congress that would raise the population limit to around the current level.

Where to Go See Wild Horses

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