Officials Opt For Wise Horse Course

Faced with natural concerns associated with the wild horse population on Assateague Island, federal officials opted for the logical alternative. Going with what is essentially a slightly more aggressive version of the status quo was a wise decision. 

The millions who visit Assateague Island each year find the wild horses to be quite charming and there is no disputing they are a popular draw for many. It’s a common sight to see ponies walking along the beach or paths in concert with people. In some cases, horses lie directly along with beach-goers relaxing by the ocean. Unfortuantely, as Assateague Island National Seashore Acting Superintendent Carl Zimmerman put it in his “Development of Alternatives for Managing the Feral Horses of Assateague Island National Seashore” statement, “the horses have thrived too well at a cost to native species and natural processes, and have even altered the island itself.”

Consequently, federal officials have been trying to determine proper ways to strike a balance between “keeping the Assateague horses healthy and free-roaming while protecting the unique natural environment of their island home,” Zimmerman wrote.

With the goal continuing to be a thinning of the current herd, this week island officials announced the only alternative that was reasonable has been selected. Options considered were no action, which would allow the population of approximately 130 horses to continue as is without any changes in the contraception process used presently; capture and removal of 15 to 30 horses and continued use of contraceptive on remaining herd; an intensive contraceptive program aimed at reducing the herd to 80 to 100 within five to eight years; and intensive contraceptive program with periodic removals and additions to manage population health.

The chosen course is essentially to intensive the current contraception program for those horses on Maryland and to let the natural cycle of life continue. While there is nothing to prevent federal officials from removing a couple dozen horses to reach the target population, this is the appropriate decision.

Selling or simply displacing horses is just bad news and runs contrary to the entire natural park image. Assateague Island is a pristine place, subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and that’s what makes it such a charming attraction. It’s an escape from the commercialism of life and relies solely on the natural cycle of life.

Federal officials had a difficult balancing act here. On one hand, there was the popularity and charm associated with the wild horses and then there was the need to take some action to prevent the wild horses from continuing harm to the island’s natural resources. The selected option, while it may take more time and does not have the immediate consequences of a removal of a portion of the herd, is the right call.

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