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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Charismatic megafauna or exotic pest? Interactions between popular perceptions of feral horses (Equus caballus) and their management and research


To date, management and research on feral horses have been strongly influenced by concerns and priorities of the general public. Due to outcry from numerous interest groups, research and management of feral horses have tended to be autecological, focused on individuals rather than populations, and addressing potential competition between horses and cattle, thus largely ignoring questions addressing roles that feral horses may play in arid and semiarid ecosystems. Management can never satisfy all desires of all interest groups, and research rarely can give answers so definitive that further questions will not arise. However, as we attempt to demonstrate, both management and research can help shape and inform public opinion through numerous means. Because feral horses have been one of the most contentious management issues of the last 100 years, it is critical that managers and investigators address both immediate and long-term concerns in their work. Honest communication of results and associated levels of uncertainty, along with rigorous testing of alternative explanations, are essential in issues having high levels of sociopolitical interest. Continued use of relevant, well-planned investigations in concert with thoughtful management may help define the future role the feral horse will play as "an integral part of the system of public lands" in the western United States.

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