Feral Horses Suffering

slide14_sidebarTNHorses are animals of the open plains; they are not woodland animals. Situations which are common to native woodland animals such as deer become lethal to horses.

Remove the Feral Horses

Dear Superintedent Ingram:

Thank you for considering plans to remove the feral horses from Cumberland Island. I wholeheartedly support your efforts, for the sake of the horses and the island.

The feral horses are suffering on Cumberland Island. Many horses are starving or malnourished, and they are often plagued with diseases, including encephalitis. The most humane solution—for the sake of the horses’ health and the island’s long-term health—is the removal of horses from the island, especially in the wilderness.

Cumberland Island’s feral horses graze heavily on the smooth cord grasses, the primary plant of the tidal areas on the mainland side of the island. Grazing reduces the density of the grasses in the marsh, which in turn negatively affects the marsh’s ability to trap and hold sediments. This inability to trap sediment can lead to increased erosion and damage from storms. Perhaps more detrimental to the marsh than grazing are the negative effects of trampling. As these large herbivores graze in these areas their hooves compress and churn the soil, thereby impeding the marsh’s ability to regenerate. Marsh grazing also reduces the number of fiddler crabs, a critical species in the salt marsh ecosystem. Fiddler crabs, besides having a positive effect on Spartina grass production, are a valuable food source for many of the animals inhabiting this ecosystem.

Feral horse impacts also threaten the dune system by reducing dune stabilizing plants such as sea oats. Other noted impacts of feral horses on Cumberland include: consumption of all Spanish moss within reach; negative effects on amphibians; disruption of nesting sea turtles; disturbance of brooding shore birds; and damage to archaeological sites and artifacts.

A very small demonstration herd could be maintained on the south end of the island, where park service personnel could monitor horse health and prevent horses from damaging island ecosystems, but please humanely remove most of the free-roaming feral horses from Cumberland Island.


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