Global Courant 2023-05-19 18:00:52
This spring, several wild horse carcasses were discovered on the southwestern shores of Mono Lake after California endured a cold and snowy winter.
When feet of snow finally melted around one of Mono County’s biggest attractions, U.S. Forest Service officials and volunteers found remnants of a large presence of feral horses — horses that typically roam much farther east — wintering around Mono Lake and huge numbers of horses left behind. manure, ecological damage and in some cases rotting skeletons.
“Visitors should be prepared to encounter horse carcasses and manure,” Inyo National Forest officials said posted on Facebook last week. “There have been reports of several horse carcasses around the South Tufa and Navy Beach areas of the lake, and this may increase in areas where the wild horses have roamed during the winter season.”
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The Forest Service said the horse deaths were likely related to the long, cold winter, but noted that no official cause of death had been determined.
“Land managers aren’t really concerned (by these deaths) as this was somewhat of an expected outcome of the long and harsh winter we’ve had, along with the fact that this horse herd had grown so large,” Lisa Cox, a spokesperson said. of the Inyo National Forest in a statement. “This was and will be the case for many other animal species in this area.”
It is also not clear how many horses were found dead.
But some Mono Lake ecologists and volunteers are concerned about the deaths, the massive amounts of manure and the disturbed habitat are the latest signs of a growing problem as feral horses increasingly move into the Mono Lake basin.
“Nearly every square foot of trail at South Tufa and Navy Beach was covered in manure, and manure heaps blocked disabled access along the boardwalk from the parking lot to the lake,” said an online post Thursday by the Mono Lake Committee, a non-profit organization that works to protect the lake and its habitats. “Several horses died in South Tufa during the winter and their scavenged carcasses were draped between tuff towers and along the lake shore.”
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Horses run through brush outside the Lee Vining and Mono Lake areas in October.
(Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle)
Bartshe Miller, the commission’s Eastern Sierra policy director, said, based on anecdotal evidence and game cameras, they estimate a dozen to 200 horses could winter in the area, where springs, wetlands and tuff towers are particularly fragile and vulnerable. easily damaged by the big animals. This region is well outside the typical range of horses, being more than 20 miles east of the lake in a federally designated herd management area around the border between California and Nevada, but Miller noted that the animals have moved west in recent years.
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Cox said the feral horses are having “negative environmental impacts on Mono Lake’s sensitive hydrological resources.”
“The recent deaths of these horses provide further evidence that the size of this herd cannot be supported by the landscape on which they extend,” Cox said. She said the Forest Service is “examining options” to update the wild horse management plan — which hasn’t been updated since 1988 — but no changes have yet been made.
A 2019 United States Department of Agriculture report recommended that Inyo National Forest work on updating the management plan for the next five years for this herd, known as the Montgomery Pass Herd, but that hasn’t started yet.
Earlier this month, Inyo National Forest officials and volunteers removed two of the horse carcasses and more than 1,000 pounds of horse manure “to reduce the impact of visitors in the main trail areas,” Inyo National Forest officials wrote on social media.
The wild horses, which are federally protected, are part of the Montgomery Pass herd, for which officials have designated nearly 200,000 acres, 70,000 of which are in the Inyo National Forest. according to federal reports.
But the horses moved west outside of that designated area and into the Mono Lake Basin in 2015, said Geoff McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee. Last winter, the horses reached the western shore of the lake, where they were even more present this year.
“They’ve generally pushed west as the population has increased,” McQuilkin said. “Based on the amount of manure at the site (this year), they were probably trapped there by the heavy snowfall.”
McQuilkin said the horses were likely attracted to the location because of the availability of some grass, the lake’s fresh water and, especially this winter, the absence of human activity, as snow impeded access to the lake.
A 2020 census conducted by the Forest Service counted about 654 horses in the Montgomery Pass herd, which is three to four times the proper management level established in 1988, with 76% of those horses falling outside the established range, said Cox.
“It would be beneficial to people, the habitat and the horses if there was a good plan that protected the horses, protected Mono Lake and its habitats, and protected public safety,” Miller said, noting that the horses began to go also close to some roads.