Beach Patrol Appreciation
On Sunday July 18, 2021 we were on the beach in the late afternoon enjoying the weather and the end of another great week in Ocean City. At about 5 p.m. we noticed the waves to be packing a bit more punch than earlier in the day and the current was really gaining strength. At this time we noticed an unattended soccer ball in the ocean. With a somewhat silly reference to a famous scene in the move “Castaway”, my better half said, “Oh no, somebody lost Wilson.”
A couple of minutes after noticing “Wilson”, we saw a swimmer who decided to swim out and attempt to retrieve the ball. With each stroke the guy took out east towards the sea, the ball managed to drift a bit further. We took notice of how very far out from shore he was and started to grow concerned. We looked up at the beach patrol stand and saw that the Surf Rescue Technician on duty noticed the dangerous scene as well. Sure enough, the swimmer got tired, turned around with never getting the ball and started to swim back to sure. However, he was exhausted and could not make it. He panicked and waved his hands for assistance.
The SRT, bolted from his stand and hit the ocean waters like a horse breaking out of the starting gate. As he swam to rescue the swimmer from his post on Talbot Street, a female SRT from the stand just north of the pier left her perch and went to the scene with her buoy over her head. It was a well-trained team in action. We watched the SRT (Paul) assist the swimmer back to shore. Once on firm footing the swimmer who was once in danger of losing his life just sort of walked away a tad embarrassed. Meanwhile, we knew we just saw a life be saved.
It was very sad to learn that just two days earlier a swimmer was not so lucky and ended up drowning just a few blocks north from the site of the rescue we witnessed. We are forever thankful to have SRT’s like Paul out there working miracles. The entire OCBP operation is amazing from top down. We residents, and vacationers are very fortunate to have them. Please follow their advice and “keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard is in the stand”. The life you save could be your own.
Crofton and Ocean City
Keeping Them Wild
There has been a lot of talk about the relocation of the young horse on Assateague Island lately. This is long, so bear with me. Most of it hurts my heart and leaves a chorus of “They know not what they do” ringing in my ears.
First, let me say that my own heart goes out to the National Park Service for feeling they had to make this call last week. I respect it, but I don’t have to love it. I imagine they didn’t love it, either. I was not a fly on the wall, or privy to the discussions that preceded making the call, but it’s my bet that the public and social media pressure fever pitch, coupled with the pony paparazzi and internet “vets” following the band around to “report” on the foal’s condition made it impossible to justify leaving her with her band.
Second, let me say that I’m not anti-Chincoteague, anti-fire department, or anti-Saltwater Cowboys either. The way that the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) runs all of that is a time-honored tradition that I took part in as a child, and I’ve even owned a Pony Penning pony. I choose not to as an adult, but I have thought of taking my grandkids. People feel very strongly about it, and there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment for those who are a part of that process. I get it. I respect it. I am sure that CVFD had its share of public pressure on the matter as well.
My point is this. Please know the full measure what you’re asking, or demanding. Do your research, try and look at all sides of an issue, not just the one that’s cushy and in your comfort zone before demanding action. Your “two cents” may often cost much, much, more than that.
For those who don’t know, I grew up on the very last farm on the left before you curve left to go to Assateague — Humphreys Sandy Point Farm. I walked and biked to the island as a child, spent time on it with my parents. I spend a lot of time there now.
There aren’t many things, besides my family, that bring me more joy than sitting on that island, soaking in one of the last places on this peninsula where you can go to any number of points and not see a single condo or a hotel, or even a human in any direction. I revel in the unaltered, unfiltered nature of it all.
A mare was hit and eventually died on the Maryland side of the island recently. She had foaled this year, and it seemed the foal had been injured as well. There was a lot of public outcry over not having efforts made by a vet to save the mare, or having park staff step in to get the foal seen by a vet.
This isn’t something the NPS does. The ponies are wildlife, plain and simple. They are as much a part of the island as the Sika deer, the fox, the whitetails and the birds. They are born, they reproduce, they live and they die. They do so without human intervention. If the island were to close off to humans entirely tomorrow, the Maryland herd would survive, and even thrive. They do that without ever having felt a halter or saddle or bridle bit. Without ever having seen the inside of a trailer, stall, pasture or fence, or without ever having shoes nailed to their feet. It’s not always pretty, but always breathtaking.
The only intervention performed is typically birth control darting, when a population surge makes it look like the numbers are swinging over the threshold that the island’s resources can comfortably support. Now let’s think about that for a minute. The Maryland side could, conceivably, auction off excess foals and pad the budget of the island with the proceeds, but they don’t. The population control takes money from their pockets, but insures the balance of resources necessary for survival in the island’s ecology. So why do they not? Because they are simply stewards of the park, and its wildlife and resources. It’s their job to protect them, not profit from them.
There’s a complex and ever changing social structure among the herd. Family structures and bands, with both fluid and constant members, roam about the island at will. They’re fenced only by natural barriers and the Verrazano Bridge. The island is theirs. We’re the guests. There are constant skirmishes amongst band stallions over mares and territory, but they work it out just as they have forever. Survival of the fittest is the only selective breeding program here.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. Much like the mustangs, surviving since time immemorial, there’s been public outcry that they need “care” and that to not provide them with it is socially irresponsible, morally unacceptable, and even “Cruelty to animals.”
For the love of all things holy, don’t tell the ponies. They don’t know. Unfortunately, neither do most of the folks that think taking a wild horse from its band, its home range, and chucking it in a corral is an “upgrade.”
Bottom line, nothing against Chincoteague, but facts are simply facts. The Chincoteague herd is not the touchy feely one from the Misty books. It’s a business. A for-profit, managed, selective breeding, captive livestock business, that takes place on public land by permit for nearly a century. A business that raised over $271,000 in 2019. There have been 1,297 ponies sold just between 1999 and 2019, bringing in $1,960,829 in those years. (Data from Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce). That’s $2 million, in only 10 of those years.
The Virginia ponies aren’t “free,” they’re behind fences in large pastures in a grazing range on public land. Three times a year, they’re rounded up, branded, vetted, have shots, hoof care, teeth floated. Once a year, every foal born that year is rounded up for auction. Most are sold to private buyers, for profit. That’s farming, folks, not a refuge, park or sanctuary, not a preserve. They just happen to hold a permit to graze their private livestock on a refuge.
A certain fluid number, necessary to keep the total herd numbers under the 150 the federal public lands grazing permit allows, are designated as “buyback” ponies. Chosen by public popularity, or because they possess traits, coloring, conformation or lineage desirable to the herd going forward. That’s selective captive breeding.
So, my point is, I recently watched a foal who’d lost her mother graze, sleep, travel and even play with her band. She was free to go where she pleased. She had a slight limp, which seemed to be improving, and the definite protection of more than one of her bandmates. On a Monday, she was captured, loaded confused and likely terrified into a vehicle, and transported to a corral on the Virginia side.
They’ve stated she won’t be auctioned. Of course not, because it will strengthen the gene pool of the Virginia herd. It’s in the best interest of the business that is Pony Penning. It’s a budgetary and management decision. Not one of the heart. As a whole, let’s get right with that reality. I’m tired of seeing the deluded folks who believe this is all a glorious, necessary, righteous rescue. By buying into that delusion, we lay the groundwork for a cosmic shift in the ecology of the island we all love. Today, it’s a foal, tomorrow, there will be public outcry for every horse with a hoof chip to be shipped off to a Chincoteague carnival grounds corral.
So now, for those who feel this is “for the best”, “Awesome”, it’s making you “cry tears of happiness”, I ask you to consider the following.
Sunday, no one owned that foal. It was the last day she would be truly free. She was part of a band, a herd, a family. Part of the ecological balance of one of the most beautiful places remaining in America, but she was not property.
Today, she is property. An asset, a commodity. She’s breeding livestock owned by the CVFD. She’ll have more human hands now than her whole band likely has in their collective lifespans. She will never again not be behind a fence or in a corral. Whether the fences are there to keep humans out or ponies in won’t matter much to her.
Sunday, she had a future as a free, wild mare who would someday help carry on the genes of her mother within the herd. Those genes are now lost to the Maryland herd. They may be a part of the Virginia herd, but that rests solely on whether or not her foals are chosen as buybacks. The thing that we know is that every single one she has in her lifetime will be taken from her and auctioned off, either as a buyback or to a private owner. Every foal, and she’ll be permitted to keep on having them every year she can conceive and carry. Her future is now to be a privately-owned broodmare.
So, before the next “Bash the National Park Service” fest, I urge you to walk a mile in the unshod feet of the wild ponies, another in the Virginia herd, do some reading and research, and before you volunteer as keyboard warrior for either side of the manure pile, maybe ask yourself which life you’d prefer as a pony?
Everything has a cost. Everything has consequences. If you visit the park, please, just slow the hell down. Breathe, enjoy, take it in. There’s no place like it, and no reason for you to be in that kind of hurry. There’s a lot to see, and if you’re going fast enough to hit any wildlife, you are surely missing it. I sincerely hope recent events aren’t the beginning of a huge shift in the park as we know it. If that dies, part of me will die with it.
I will remain Team #Keepemwild