Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't Blame the Horses

Like most young girls, I went through a "horse book" reading phase.  (I think it came somewhere between Nancy Drew and the teen romances.)  One of my favorites was Misty of Chincoteague, a story about the wild ponies of Chincoteague.  Chincoteague is in Virginia, but I was pleased to find that North Carolina has its own wild ponies and horses.

There are herds of wild horses and ponies all along the coastal areas of North Carolina.  Descendants of the mustangs brought to the Outer Banks in the 1500s, the horses lived on the barrier islands for centuries.  As the area became inhabited by more people, the horses became a tourist attraction.  Our family vacationed every year in Nags Head, then a quiet family beach just south of the areas where the wild horses roamed.  Imagine my delight when we would drive north and actually see the wild horses running across the sand.

Today the wild horses, especially in Corolla, NC are in danger.  Their major problems date to the expansion of Highway 12 in 1988.  Before that time there were no paved roads to Corolla.  Other herds in NC are federally protected, but the mustangs in Corolla do not enjoy such protection.  The size of their State sanctuary has shrunk as the number of vacation homes has risen.

The expansion of the highway naturally brought expansion of development.  Now the horses are being called nuisances, competing for limited wildlife resources reduced by the over building in the area.  The people came, the people built, and the horses are the losers.

Current plans (backed by the federal government) are to reduce the Corolla herd to just 60 horses.  With the human expansion, the horses are now described as feral animals, not native to the Outer Banks and a danger to native wildlife.  Opponents of the reduction plan fear that a 60-horse herd leaves them vulnerable to inbreeding and other problems related to a very small gene pool.  It appears that the intention is to leave enough horses to attract tourists, yet not inconvenience the people who have built their colorful beach houses in the area.

Both photographs from the Internet with no credit given to the photographers.

I have mixed feelings about the horses.  Truly they are not native, but they managed to survive without significant environmental impact for more than four hundred years.  The environmental impact in this case is caused by humans moving further and further into the previously undeveloped areas causing all wildlife to have to compete for the few remaining natural resources.  I do NOT have mixed feelings about the over development along the fragile Outer Banks.  On a visit there last fall, I was appalled at the number of houses and condos dotting the area.  Given a false sense of security with no major hurricanes in the recent past, people have built on unstable areas.  I saw houses built on land that I remember as inlets.  That is the way of the sea.  The Outer Banks have historically changed and will continue to change in the future.  New inlets will cut through and establish new islands.  Sands will shift and land will be lost.

[Disclaimer:  I must admit to a very selfish reason that I detest the unsafe expansion of homes along the Outer Banks.  In North Carolina, insurance companies are allowed to underwrite policies across the risk spectrum of the state.  Therefore my insurance is much more expensive, since I help to pay the cost for the insurance on the beach homes.]

I have no answers for the problem, but I can assure you the horses are not at the root of the problem.  The people are the root cause.  I give you this fact:  Corolla has a year-round population of fewer than 500 people.  There are 1,300 (yes, one thousand and three hundred) homes in the Corolla area.  You tell it the horses or is it the people?


Cicero Sings said...

Human greed is the root. It seems hard to live peaceably with humans!

Anonymous said...

And they're not just 'regular' sized houses--they're monstrosities designed for the most part, not for families, but for golfers and large groups so as to milk the most rental money.

The wild ponies are part of the history of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. They get my vote for belonging there, even though they're not native.

Why should a national park accommodate developers so eagerly?

The Thundering Herd said...

Sadly, the same story could be told about our mountains, overdevelopment and bears. If you chose to live where the wild things are, you must accept the wild things.

Vicki Lane said...

I suggest they thin the herd of developers and new housing. (Yes, I was a huge fan of Misty of Chincoteague.)

George said...

I agree that problems are caused by people developing areas that shouldn't be developed. When I lived near the South Carolina coast a house was re-built twice after being destroyed by hurricanes. Dumb!

robin andrea said...

I had no idea there were wild horses there along the coast. They are quite spectacular. I completely agree with you and the other commenters here. They should be saved and the herd of humans and developers should be thinned.

This is an ongoing tragedy in every environmental niche. Sadly we never seem to learn how to co-exist with the wildlife. I'm not sure we'll ever learn.

Busy Bee Suz said...

"We" are usually the biggest problem in issues like this.
It makes me sad that the horses are now a nuisance....seems just crazy to me too.
Makes me think of the song: "Wild horses" sad.

carolina nana said...

I'm sure is the greed in people that is the root of this action.
We vacationed there in the late 90's and early 2000's and were surprised each year at how many more house had been built.
I talked to a lady that was a year round resident in Corolla and she said the residents were a minority here as there were only about 600 of them.The developers were pretty much in control.That was 10 years ago and I imagine it has only gotten worse for them.
So sad for those lovely horses.
Hope you have a blessed day.

cyclopseven said...

Sometimes it make me wonder if we are evolving towards the betterment of the world, or towards the destruction of it. Poor between human greeds they suffer the pain.

KGMom said...

Black Beauty here.
Anyway--overdevelopment of fragile coastal areas--don't even get me started.


Sad to say that the scapegoat for the mishandling of coastal land use is -- of course -- the horses that have lived on the land since 1500s. Of course in hindsight the land should have become protected. Now not only are the horses losing their habitat but the McMansions are causing the depletion of natural resources not only to horses but to other coastal animals. This type of land development is manicured and sterile and causes degradation to the natural sites for wild species. I could go on but most of us know the damage such housing monstrosities cause to the natural world. Folks that live in McMansions have the false view that the natural world is a Disney production. -- barbara

kks said...

definitely the people! sad....
i remember seeing the wild horses as a child....

Jayne said...

Black Beauty for me too. :c)

Certainly not the fault of the horses. It would be a shame to eradicate them, when as you said, they are there by no fault of their own, and have existed for 400 years.

troutbirder said...

I tend to think living four hundred years in the same place outa give some rights. This problem is common throughout the country. Think mountain lions in Montana as people build their mansions in wilderness areas.... and then claim the animals threaten their poodles.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Don't forget that when there is a developer there is somebody selling land to them...probably for big bucks. Sometimes people inherit land that they can't "support" because of high taxes, so the land gets sold. As a friend of mine said, she is land rich and tax poor. She is the last in her family and has inherited a farm, a lake cabin, a trailer park, and a house. Non-homesteaded property is taxed at a high rate.

Michele said...

This same story plays itself out everywhere and do we learn? It is always the animal who pays.
There are wild horses in the eastern foothills of the Rockies that haven't been protected either.
I loved Misty as a child too, and my children as well. More of our shorelines need to be protected and left alone.

Barb said...

This is a problem wherever there is wildlife and scenic natural habitat. People want to enjoy the beauty but do not want to be "inconvenienced". It's funny how horses that lived there for hundreds of years are now deemed non-native.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Carolyn, That's too bad about the horses... They are caught in a political situation.. I have never heard of them --nor been to the Outer Banks... I do think it is sad to see all of the building along the coast line. It's like building cabins all over the mountaintops.... Drives us crazy... Good old humans!!!!!

As George said, it's dumb to allow people to keep building in areas where storms can destroy them... Our tax dollars help pay for those idiots to rebuild over and over. Makes no sense at all.

Interesting post... Thanks!

jeannette said...

How sad -still have to learn much about the Americas, so I didn't know about the horses in this area. Hope someone in the political arena will stand up and do something to prevent further development of houses.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

How sad to think about how expansion has affected these horses. I wish I knew the solution.

We drove by a farm today that someone is in the process of buying for development. Deer graze in the fields there in the evening and cross the road every day. Soon they too will be gone and forgotten. Heartbreaking.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Herd - That is exactly right. If you choose to live in their habitat, you choose to live with the animals.

Vicki - Great idea!

Robin - yes, from Maryland to Georgia there are herds of wild horses and ponies along the coast.

PS - So true. So many people here in the mountains are facing that same thing. That's why I contribute to conservation groups who are purchasing the land at reasonable prices and allowing the owners to live there. Upon their deaths, the land is no longer available for development. It's a win situation all around.

Carolina Kitchen - It just breaks my heart whenever I see that happening. And with the economy the way it is we are seeing more and more of these developments going bankrupt and leaving terrible scars on the landscape.

Tipper said...

When I went through my 'horse' stage-I begged and begged Pap to buy me one-even though we didn't have a pasture or barn to put it it. He finally told me when I went up the creek and found a horse behind a rock I could have one : )

I saw the wild horses for the first time last spring-they are beautiful for sure.

Jill said...

The majority of "us" humans are not native either. Sad to see this happen. It is heartbreaking to go there and see all of those huge homes that are popping up like weeds. I guess it just takes one pile of horse manure in someones yard to get the ball rolling. Why these people need a squeaky clean place to vacation is beyond me. Wildlife is part of the package. We can't even ride our horses in a local parade anymore because one might poop on the pavement (oh the horrors). And this is in small town America. The horses are not hurting anyone. The people should be banned not the horses.