Jun 28, 2014 6:54 PM by Linda Watkins-Bennett
Despite overall numbers in the tens of thousands, mustang advocates say the wild horse is on the verge of going extinct in North America for the second time in 13,000 years and deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act alongside grizzly bears, the desert tortoise and humpback whales.
According to the Associated Press, efforts to halt mustang roundups in Congress and the courts have been unsuccessful over the past decade. However, two groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service ... focusing on genetics and research they say prove the horses are a native species. They say growing threats from development, livestock grazing and government gathers are jeopardizing the genetic viability of individual herds in 10 states from California to Montana.
The petition with the Colorado-based horse group, The Cloud Foundation, charges says mustang habitat has shrunk 40 percent since President Richard Nixon signed the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act into law in 1971. It advances an argument that the Bureau of Land Management long has rejected - that the wild horse is a native species that only temporarily went extinct on the continent 11,000 to 13,000 years ago ... before Spanish conquistadors reintroduced it to North America in the 1500s.
The call for protection comes as BLM insists the public rangeland - much of it in the throes of drought - is being degraded by an overpopulation of nearly 50,000 horses and burros, about half of them in Nevada.
While BLM estimates 49,208 horses and burros are on the range, the petition says none of the isolated herds number anywhere near the 2,500 most biologists consider necessary to keep a distinct species viable.
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said Friday that the agency hasn't changed its longstanding position that today's American wild horses are not "native."