We’ve all seen it during the last several wildfire seasons in Oregon & California, the number of wildfires per year is growing and so is their intensity.
Just in the last two years alone, more than two million acres have scorched by wildfires across Oregon, leaving thousands people homeless and some areas devastated.
But the impacts of wildfires goes far beyond impacting just people.
“We are losing wildlife, ” said William E. Simpson II, an Ethologist for Wild Horse Fire Brigade. Every acre of forest that burns we are losing between 20 to 80 animals. Our wildlife populations are being decimated.”
Back in 2014, Simpson had been pondering the very question that many people in Oregon might be thinking today, “Why is this happening, and how do we solve this growing wildfire problem.”
But during one of his studies in Northern California, Simpson said he may have discovered one possible solution, wild horses.
“They were actually beneficial to the landscape,” said Simpson. “They were creating natural fire breaks and areas of reduced fuels.”
Since then, Simpson and the Wild Horse Fire Brigade have been working towards re-introducing more wild horses back in Oregon’s forests to scarf away at the many fire fuels that grow each and every year across the state.
“What we know from science is when you reduce the fuel you reduce the frequency and intensity of wildfires,” said Simpson.
According to Simpson, one horse on average will eat about 5.5 tons of fire fodder every year, and if the state were to add thousands of these wild horses back into the landscape, Simpson believes this could make a impact in the number and intensity of wildfires in Oregon.
A re-introduction of more wild horses in Oregon could also be exactly what the state needs to tackle growing fire fuels, as Oregon’s herbivore continues to dwindle.
“There’s over a hundred scientists that have published work when you lose your herbivory, catastrophic wildfires evolve,” said Simpson.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Mule Deer populations in Oregon have been dramatically declining, and have been almost cut in half in that last 20 years. But why is this important?
“These animals were grazing almost three million tons of annual grass and brush,” said Simpson.
Simpson told NewsWatch 12 that re-introducing more wild horses back in Oregon’s forests could help alleviate some of this problem, by eating some the fire fuels that are now being left behind by a declining deer population.
And he’s not alone in his belief.
“I am convinced this is not an experiment,” said Oregon Gubernatorial Court Boice. “Even if its only 10% or 20%, it will make a difference. It is just one important tool that we need to take very seriously.”
However during the last several years, the Wild Fire Horse Brigade has had a hard time picking up support from those in power. One of their biggest challenges has been trying to convince the Bureau of Land Management that they need to release more of their captured horses back into Oregon’s wilderness.
Since 1971, the BLM has been in charge of managing the nation’s wild horse population and controls how many horses are allowed to stay in the wild. For years, the BLM has stated that wild horse populations must be controlled at low levels due to their risk of over breeding, causing a strain on horse herds and the surrounding landscape, and a lack of natural predators.
But Simpson, who’s been studying wild horses for the last several years says that’s not entirely true.
“In these wilderness areas, like Kalmiopsis wilderness, Six Rivers wilderness, the soda mountain wilderness, there are lots of predators,” said Simpson. “The babies get eaten by the coyotes, the lions and the bears and the adults get eaten by the bears and the lions. We don’t have an overpopulation problem here.”
Even though the project has not received the support it needs to be put into motion, Simpson says he’ll continue to fight until more wild horses are put back in Oregon & California’s wilderness, to help prevent future wildfires.
“I’ve seen baby owls jump on the ground out of their nest, trees on fires and then they burn alive on the ground screaming. The things you see in these fires are horrific,” said Simpson. “We can start to make a positive change and we can do it right now.”