Wild Horse Fire Brigade: Lessons in Rebalancing North American Ecosystems by Rewilding Equids

Wild Horse Fire Brigade: Lessons in Rebalancing North American Ecosystems by Rewilding Equids

In North America, plants and animals including horses coevolved over many millions of years. But, around 10,000 BC, horses disappeared from their original home likely because of early Native American hunting.


Meanwhile, horses had crossed out of America over the Bering Strait’s land bridge. In this way, America’s native horses and their descendants avoided extinction and eventually populated Europe, Asia and Africa. Some horses, such as zebra, remained wild. Others were domesticated. The Spanish brought horses home to North America about 1500 where they immediately flourished in the habitats where they had evolved.


Those who believe that horses are “alien exotic” animals that don’t “belong” in our systems because they are “invasive species” that by definition “harm” native plants and animals and thereby cause “ecosystem damage” don’t understand the natural history of the horse and its native continent, or the physical interdependence that exists between American rangelands and forests and the creatures that evolved along with them.


A small part of that mutual need is discussed in the excellent article below.



NOTE: this article was originally published to Grazelife.com on November 1, 2019.


One of the main topics of the GRAZELIFE-project is prevention of wildfire damage by large herbivores. While we are examining this issue in the European context, we can already take advantage of experiences in other parts of the world. Below the case of wild horses as a natural fire brigade in the US.

Recently an intensive close-range five-year observational study has revealed new insights into wild horse behavioral ecology in the wilderness, and how their symbiosis with other native species flora and fauna can benefit western American wilderness areas.


A mountain spring feeding a riparian area and creek that is used by wild horses, yet remains pristine.


Wildfire prevention
This study titled “Impact Of Wild Horses On Wilderness Landscape And Wildfire – Preliminary Findings” by naturalist-rancher William E. Simpson II unveils a factual understanding of wild horses and their natural, positive impact on wilderness and forest landscapes.


Wild horses reducing dry fuels off forest floor.


Reseeding function

Unlike ruminants (deer, elk, cattle, sheep), which chew a cud and have complex and highly efficient digestive systems, wild horses and burros are single stomached and therefore do not digest most of the seeds they eat. This makes wild horses and burros nature’s re-seeding experts in and around wilderness landscapes, where they perform the role of reseeding and supporting the reestablishment of threatened and endangered plants and grasses.


Native species grasses and plants readily germinate and thrive in wild horse dropping. – WILLIAM E. SIMPSON II


This evolutionary process also helps to restore soils that have been depredated by wildfires. Furthermore, wildfire grazing by wild horses can annually sequester millions of tons of carbon compounds back into soils, as opposed to allowing wildfires and prescribed burns to combust vegetative materials producing greenhouse gases and toxic wildfire smoke.

Wild horse droppings provide humus for native plant and grass seeds that pass through a horse’s single stomach undigested.

Wild horses impact

The Study is the first of its kind and is unique in that is was conducted in a wilderness area that is virtually devoid of livestock operations, and therefore any impact on the landscape can only be attributed to wild horses. In other areas where comingled cattle and wild horses are in competition, determining damage or benefit to the landscape becomes a very difficult “who done it” mystery, which is vulnerable to partisan interpretation.


Lightening hit this dead snag and it burned, but the fire did not spread into the forest due to ground fuels reduction by grazing wild horses. – WILLIAM E. SIMPSON II


More to read and watch

The results are supported by firefighters and scientists, and produced thousands of photos and many videos derived from eleven thousand hours of observational study in remote locations under difficult conditions at close range. Some of the findings are further elaborated on in two articles:

A recent natural history documentary film out of Colorado College titled “Fuel, Fire and Wild Horses” – based on the findings of the study above – has been “Officially Selected” by the Aspen Mountain Film Festival and highlights the mutualisms that wild horses have in and around forest ecosystems.

Management plan

As a result of information gained from the Study, along with other published supporting science by scientists, a new management plan for wild horses has been published and offers a winning solution for all stakeholders. The plan is titled, “Natural Wildfire Abatement And Forest Protection Plan”, also affectionately known as the “Wild Horse Fire Brigade” by some people.

The beneficiaries of the Plan include livestock enterprises, the timber industry, wilderness ecosystems and America’s native species wild horses and burros, all the while providing a reduction in both the frequency and intensity of catastrophic wildfire.


More information:

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • The science that led to the belief that American wild horses went extinct “10,000 years ago” is about 50-years old. And it’s this antique science that serves the Bureau of Land Management well in their quest to demonize wild horses as if they (not cattle) were the invasive species on the North American continent.

    The latest paleontological and cultural archaeology strongly suggest that this older extinction belief no longer provides the complete picture.

    When Jane Goodall announced (ca. 1960) that Chimps made and used tools, the scientific world held her in disdain… she upset their belief system, which was the fodder for many PhD thesis docs.

    Here some inconvenient truths for the BLM’s wild horse management agenda:

    1) The journals of the first French explorers who in early 1600 penetrated deeper into the middle of the North America than any others met and observed the native Americans west of the Missouri River and east of the Rocky Mountains. They documented, at that time, Native American hunting buffalo on horses with long spears. Cultural archaeologists who can determine how many years spanned between iterations of stone axes, etc. considered this hunting technology (it was tech), the time required to devise training methods for horses and the evolutionary development of a refined long-spear via trial and error, and have determined that Native Americans had been using horses and these highly evolved spears to hunt during the pre-Viking and pre-Columbus period (ca. 1400s).

    This information was largely overlooked since these journals are handwritten in French and buried within them were the accounts of Pre-Columbus horses, until a study was conducted by professor Claire Henderson from the History Department – Batiment De Koninck Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec Canada. That document was titled ‘The Aboriginal North American Horse‘, which offers some very compelling historical and cultural archaeological evidence for American wild horses predating the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas.

    2) Moreover, extinction conjectures that are/were attributed to a global ice age that involved Europe and North America. However, recently in Europe, archeologists are finding that wild horses there that had previously crossed into Asia and moved into Europe around 17,000 years ago, survived the subsequent Ice Age that followed by adapting-to and living in forests, which is what also happened in America.

    Here: https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/into-the-woods-horses-survived-mass-extinction-by-adapting-to-forests

    However, as we examine the current situation around us; politics, money and egos are suppressing and censoring this new understanding, as is evidently clear by documents being presented to our Congress by the BLM stating that:
    “Wild horses and burros have no natural predators…” , which is a manifestly false statement crafted by scientists and managers at the BLM and is found in their ‘Management Options For A Sustainable Wild Burro and Horse Program’, page one of the Executive Summary, 5th paragraph; here: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/wildhorse_2018ReporttoCongress.pdf

    In Fact: Scientific dishonesty is now at epidemic levels in America: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0803/0803.4058.pdf

    And of course, the latest science confirms; when the Vikings and Spanish arrived with horses, that was a classic re-introduction of a ‘native species’.

    We know that the French explorers, who were cartographers and explorers, were not politically, financially or egotistically motivated to journal myths, which has been the ongoing case within the BLM, and must be called-out and stopped.

    And effort is now underway to cull at least one BLM scientist who seems condemned via intellectual dishonesty in proffering (in writing) that; ‘wild horses have no natural predators’, which is utter nonsense.

    Recently, an article was published shinning a bright light on that issue, here:


    Respectfully Yours, Bill
    Capt. William E. Simpson II – USMM Ret.
    Naturalist – Rancher / Wild Horse Ranch
    Creator: Wild Horse Fire Brigade (www.WHFB.us)
    Author HorseTalk
    Member: IMDb

    • Thank you Bill, good historical points you raise here. Horses may have been here all along, but in my mind that does not matter in the bigger picture.

      Do not allow yourself to be trapped in the bogus science of invasive species biology and its narrative of biological bigotry. Cattle and horse are complementary not competitive, as were ancient horses and bison. Wild horses are best defended under the understanding they are essential to the biodiversity without which our rangelands will perish.

      Please click on, read and consider the points in this article.
      Thanks for writing.

  • The question is why is the BLM’s only management strategy only consisting of roundups? After all these years since the 1971 Wild Horse Act – it would seem time for a change. NOT increasing the roundups as their latest “Plan” promotes, but finding another way! Doing the same thing over & over & expecting a different result sure doesnt sound like science, does it?

    • Hello Maggie,

      Please excuse my late answer, I’ve been putting it off because I know you won’t like what I have to say.

      The root problem with overpopulation of horses and all the bad things are spilling out from that problem, is that pro-horse faction will not allow for the round up and slaughter of horses which is the only practical way to control their number. Our wild systems do not have the predators that would have done this “back in the day”. So humans must.

      The result of the overpopulation is that a lot of nice people now hate horses, just like they hate feral pigs. The answer to the feral pig problem is to eat feral pigs and something like that has to be done with horses. And the same holds true of domestic horses, the slaughter of which has also been blocked by the same folks.

      It is ironic that horse lovers, by blocking commonsense population solutions for so long, have done such damage to wild horses, and also increasingly to domestic horses. Your comment about doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome applies to this situation, not to horse removals generically, in my opinion. I say these things as a wild horse and burro advocate.

      Thank you for reading and writing, I am sorry to disagree.

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