by Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin as published on The Hill
As a massive wildfire rages along California’s northern border, one rancher is eying an unlikely future savior: the four-legged fighters of the Wild Horse Fire Brigade.
Since 1971, the Bureau of Land Management has been responsible for wild horses — corralling them with helicopters if there are too many in any given area. Today, there are 55,000-60,000 horses in captivity, whose care costs taxpayers about $90 million annually.
But California naturalist William Simpson, a former cattle rancher who studies wild horses, told NPR that he’d prefer to re-wild these animals as members of his Wild Horse Fire Brigade.
This local herd, he explained, has reduced the fuel available to wildfires through grazing.
The horses are able to “tread lightly in this environment,” while “using the same game trails deer and elk use — trimming highly flammable grass and brush along the way,” said NPR reporter Stephanie O’Neill, citing Simpson.
“Then, unlike cows, which are non-native species, they replant through their manure much of what they eat, including native and endangered plants,” she added.
The horses are also able to help “fireproof” the surrounding trees, by scratching against and breaking off low-lying branches, according to NPR.
“Horses are like slow moving fire brigades,” said NPR host Emily Kwong.
“Their natural behavior changes the landscape in ways that prevent wildfires from getting massive in the first place,” she added.