by Arthur Mac, from Forbes Magazine
BLM Exterminates Wild Horses While Other Countries Reintroduce the Species
Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared the icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are there, too, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.
Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.
Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing the animals to land they once roamed by the millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.
His experiment is being closely monitored by wildlife experts around the world interested in the practice of rewilding natural areas.
Climate change is felt most sharply in the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. Zimov is trying to re-create an ecosystem that disappeared 10,000 years ago with the end of the ice age.
He believes herds of grazers will turn the tundra into luxurious grasslands. Tall grasses with complex root systems will stabilize the frozen soil, which is now thawing at an ever-increasing rate, he says.
Herbivores keep wild grass short and healthy, sending up fresh shoots through the summer and autumn. Their manure gives crucial nourishment. In winter, the animals flatten snow that otherwise would insulate the ground from the cold air. That helps prevent the frozen ground, or permafrost, from thawing and releasing powerful greenhouse gases.
Grass also reflects more sunlight than forests, a further damper to global warming.
Zimov began the project in 1989, fencing off 40,000 acres of forest, meadows, shrub land and lakes. It is surrounded by 150,000 acres of wilderness.
Zimov started with 40 Yakutian horses. Today he has 70 animals in the park and hopes to find funding to bring in thousands more.