Dirt bathers

 

For anyone who hikes the Placitas Open Space (POS) and BLM land around Placitas, or just walks around their subdivisions, the destructive impact of the feral horses is clearly seen. The horse as a romantic icon is ingrained in our history and imagination. Unfortunately, outside of a corral they are a destructive non-native species that threatens truly native animals, plants and their habitats.

The environmental damage caused by feral horses has been documented by a number of peer-reviewed scientific studies. They found that the land is damaged by horses trampling vegetation, compacting the soil, and over-grazing native grasses and shrubs. Areas occupied by feral horses have fewer plant species, less plant cover, and more invasive non-native plants such as cheatgrass and kochia. This has a negative ripple effect on the ecology of an entire area such as Placitas. Horse trails and large swaths created by their dirt baths can destroy entire plant communities. Many small reptiles and mammals that depend on burrows and vegetation cover to survive and breed are less abundant in areas frequented by feral horses. One exception is the deer mice, a species known to thrive in disturbed landscapes. Unfortunately, deer mice are also the carriers of hantavirus in New Mexico.