Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022 @ 3:44 p.m. / Environment, Fire, Oregon

Boice Believes Horses Are Native to Curry County and Can Help Fight Wildfires, but His Colleagues are Unpersuaded


Wild Horses Staff Report


Court Boice’s efforts to get his colleagues on board with using wild horses as a wildfire deterrent on Curry County’s public lands failed for a fourth time Wednesday.

Boice brought Wild Horse Fire Brigade representatives Bill Simpson and Deb Ferns to try to convince his colleagues John Herzog and Chris Paasch that introducing horses to the county’s “deep wilderness” areas would reduce the fuel load and help deer and elk thrive.

But Paasch and Herzog rejected the idea, pointing out that the large landowners in the county, including South Coast Lumber, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management don’t have horses on their property. Paasch said he believed the federal government wouldn’t allow horses to be introduced to public lands because the Bureau of Land Management spends so much time and money removing them.

“Horses wander, and the damage to personal property over the time of those horses wandering is, I believe, why the federal government removed a lot of these horses,” Paasch said, adding that he owns a ranch and has trained “thousands of horses.”

“I think what we need more is better forest management. We talk about how horses contributed decades, centuries ago. I believe it was the forest management of the indigenous people, the Indians, that lived out west and in the midwest and how they treated the forests. They would create huge fire breaks in the middle of these forests.”

Based in Yreka, the Wild Horse Fire Brigade seeks to “re-wild” horses from government holding facilities, including those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and to place them as family units into designated wilderness areas that are “economically and ecologically appropriate.”

The organization also seeks to establish wildfire-grazing pilot programs using horses sourced from the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program, according to its website.

On Wednesday, Simpson, who considers his Siskiyou County ranch fireproof because of the horses that graze there, said the Wild Horse Fire Brigade has science from Ross MacPhee, a senior curator of the American Museum of Natural History and an expert on equid evolution, showing that the horse is native to the United States.

Included in Boice’s staff report is a Sept. 13 letter to the editor MacPhee sent to Cowboy State Daily in Wyoming challenging another writer’s statement that horses are invasive to the United States.

“Equus cabals is the only valid horse species living on the planet today,” MacPhee writes. “It is the surviving member of the cabal lines, a specific lineage of horses that arose about 5 million years ago — in North America.”

In his presentation to the Curry County Board of Commissioners, Simpson said when 16th Century explorer, Sir Francis Drake, came up the West Coast and landed in Curry County to scrape barnacles off his ship’s hull, he saw horses.

“It’s in the British Museum now, in his log that he explored our area — Curry and Josephine County, Siskiyou County — and met up with indigenous Indians and in 1580, were living with a plethora of wild horses. That’s in the ship’s log,” Simpson told commissioners. “I have a respect for the knights of old. He was a world-class explorer. I don’t know how many of you gentleman have sailed, but coming around Cape Horn, that takes a lot of skill and dedication. He’s not going to write stuff in the ship’s log that isn’t true. We know there were horses here.”

Simpson also listed the wildfires that are currently burning, such as the Cedar Creek fire, which is currently 120,983 acres and 39 percent contained on the Willamette and Deschutes national forests.

“So far this year, Oregon’s lost almost 400,000 acres of prime forest land,” he said. “And for every acre of land you lose at least 20 animals. “

The horses, he said, will come from the government for free. They’ll graze down the fuel and if they’re eaten by mountain lions or bears “that’s the way it’s always been for 1.7 million years here,” Simpson said.

Simpson mentioned that people think bringing livestock to graze in wilderness areas, like the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in eastern Curry County, causes the loss of soil stabilization and erosion, which silts in rivers. This, Simpson said, affects the salmon and steelhead runs Brookings fishermen rely on.

Simpson and Ferns also argued that re-introducing horses to public land is free to the county and saves taxpayers money.

Ferns, who lives in Tuscan, Arizona, said the BLM spends about $150 million for its Wild Horse and Burro Program.

“I’m sitting here thinking to myself, after having visited BLM National, the figure because of the cost of hay this year is going to be closer to $250 million, if not $300 million,” Ferns said. “So we’re paying for all these horses, right, when they could be in Curry County for free helping you folks so that people like me can come back to fish and hunt and hike. I don’t understand why more people aren’t in front and behind this effort.”

Port Orford resident Tim Palmer differed from Boice, Simpson and Ferns, though he said he thought Boice’s intent was good. He noted that the BLM and other federal agencies have decades of range science to backup their efforts to remove wild horses from the landscape. Palmer also pointed out that a similar proposal from Boice was opposed by several members of the public last year.

“People got up speaking as private landowners who don’t want horses trespassing,” Palmer told commissioners. “People with fisheries interests commercial and sport, wildlife biologists, veterinarians. (There were) people who got up and spoke with wildfire expertise saying, ‘horses are going to make it worse not better because they’re going to perpetuate the highly volatile grasses and shrubs.’ For many reasons, this is just not the right approach.”

Herzog, pointing out that South Coast Lumber is probably the biggest private landowner in the county, asked why there wasn’t a representative at Wednesday’s meeting advocating for the Wild Horse Fire Brigade’s efforts.

Boice said approaching South Coast Lumber wouldn’t be effective unless he can convince his colleagues “through scientific fact.”

“We either believe horses are native and they will remove volatile ground fuels or we don’t,” he said. “I think the facts are very clear. I don’t care if the Board turned it down 20 times. If it’s commonsense and logic and a good tool, of course I’m going to push that.”


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