Situated in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is a beachfront haven for a wide variety of common and endangered species. The 4,500-acre wildlife refuge includes a variety of habitat that ranges from sandy beaches to grassy dunes, forests, thickets and marshes. It is home for wading birds, shorebirds, ducks, hawks and many types of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Endangered piping plovers and loggerhead sea turtles take advantage of the protected sandy beaches to lay their eggs, and rare plants like the seabeach amaranth grow at the base of rolling dunes.
The staff at Currituck NWR works hard to protect the incredible native wildlife that live on the fragile barrier island ecosystem protected by the refuge. However, they face many challenges, especially when it comes to a particular non-native species that is relatively unusual on the East Coast: feral horses. Like the kudzu vine that ravages southeastern states, or the Burmese python in Florida, feral horses are an introduced species that can wreak havoc on native plants and wildlife.
The so-called “Corolla Wild Horses” that roam the Outer Banks venture onto Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and trample a fragile ecosystem that many native species depend on. Feral horses are not true wild animals. Like feral cats or feral hogs, these animals are the descendants of domesticated breeds. Foraging horses can easily disturb the fragile barrier island ecosystem of the refuge and compete with local species for food and water.
Despite the negative impacts that horses have on Currituck NWR, a bill being considered in Congress (H.R. 306) would force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage feral horses on the refuge as they were a native species. NWRA, The Wildlife Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, the Wildlife Management Institute, and numerous other organizations – including many refuge Friends – have joined together in opposition to the “Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act” by signing a letter sent to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. These organizations represent a diverse array of national and local wildlife conservation and hunting organizations that seek to protect native wildlife.
NWRA opposes the “Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act” on the basis that it ignores scientific evidence and opens the door for other damaging interpretations about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should manage our national wildlife refuges. NWRA recommends that the horse herd should not increase in numbers above 60 animals, as outlined in an existing agreement. The Fish and Wildlife Service should be allowed to exclude non-native species, including horses from the refuge by creating barriers such as fences. By fencing off sensitive nesting areas the refuge can prevent damage to vegetation without directly harming the existing horse herd. Development on the islands has pushed horses and native wildlife into a much smaller area, and with limited resources available, the Fish and Wildlife Service must maintain its focus on protect species that are struggling for their very survival like sea turtles and piping plovers.