Feral Horses Belong on the Georgia Coast and are a Natural Part of America’s Ecosystem

Beautiful wild horses grazing under a live oak on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Wild horses grazing on a beach dune on Cumberland Island.

Anthony Martin, author of Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, wrote a blog article about feral horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia and how they degrade the environment there. (http://www.georgialifetraces.com/2011/12/20/tracking-the-wild-horses-of-cumberland-island/ Note: I could find no direct contact information for Anthony Martin anywhere.  I invite him to respond to this article.) Like many environmentalists, he wrongly states that horses are not native to North America because he’s making the bogus argument that they are detrimental to the environment.  He concedes horses once lived in Pleistocene North America, but falsely claims there is no evidence horses ever lived on barrier islands in Georgia.  He wrote “…these horses (Cumberland Island horses) are newcomers in a geological and ecological sense.  The fossil record of the modern Georgia barrier island backs this up as some of the islands (including Cumberland) have sediment more than 40,000 years old, but no horse body or trace fossils of horses, or anything like a horse….This scarcity leads paleontologists to wonder whether the islands ever had self-sustaining populations of large herbivores.”  I wonder whether Anthony Martin is a fucking idiot or a disingenous debater.   Because in the above mentioned book that he authored, he wrote “…the site of the former barrier island (off the Georgia coast) is occupied by Gray’s Reef.  Fossils of horses, bison, and mammoths were found there.”  What he wrote in his book completely contradicts what he wrote in his blog article about the Pleistocene presence of large herbivores on Georgia’s barrier islands.  According to the below referenced paper, horse fossils have been found at 8 sites near the Georgia coast in addition to Gray’s Reef, including Isle of Hope, Mayfair, Fossilosa, Porter’s Pit, Savannah River dredgings, Brunswick area, Watkin’s Quarry, and Turtle River Dredgings.  While some of these sites may have been farther inland than they are today, some were undoubtedly part of barrier islands because the vertebrate bones are mixed with sea shells.  Fossils of 2 other species of heavy grazers, bison and mammoths, have also been found at over half a dozen fossil sites near the Georgia coast.  A complete long-horned bison skull and the remains of an adult and juvenile mammoth were found at Clark Quarry along with fossils of sea birds.  Coastal fossils sites that have sea shells mixed with megafauna bones are also common in Florida and South Carolina.

Anthony Martin makes an astoundingly illogical assumption that megafauna living on the mainland wouldn’t colonize barrier islands.  As proof, he suggests Pleistocene barrier island would have had lower beach dunes and more outwash as a result of megafauna overgrazing.  There are no studies of Pleistocene beach dune topography, nor are any such studies possible because wind and water erosion have likely eliminated all evidence of ancient beach dunes which are ephemeral anyway.

Anthony Martin’s  evidence that horses degrade the environment on Cumberland Island is mostly overblown.  First, he points out that horses make wide tracks and trails.  I say, so what.  African megafauna make wide game trails.  Any erosion associated with African game trails is considered natural.  A certain amount of erosion attributable to large herbivores has always been part of the natural environment.  Second, he’s concerned that horses overgraze beach dunes, salt marsh, and live oak saplings.  This causes erosion and the slower replacement of live oaks. I agree with this concern, and I’ll address this point in the next paragraph.  Third, he mentions that horses release a lot of manure.  However, he fails to explain why this has a negative effect on the environment.

Currently, there are about 150 horses on Cumberland Island, and the herd is slowly increasing.  I have no idea what the ideal number of horses should be on the island.  The fossil record clearly shows that megafauna once roamed Georgia’s barrier islands before man hunted the beasts into extinction or extirpation, so there is nothing unnatural about the presence of horses on barrier islands.  I think it’s wonderful that 1 of America’s most beautiful species of megafauna has been returned here.  However, during the Pleistocene, saber-tooths, lions, jaguars, and dire wolves kept horse populations in check.  Today, there are no predators to control horse populations here.  Therefore, the National Park Service should study this problem and determine how many horses to cull to prevent them from overgrazing the island’s environment.  In 1997, the park service planned to remove a few horses, but Congressman Jack Kingston, a dumbass redneck who rejects the Theory of Evolution, attached a rider to a bill temporarily outlawing the removal of any horses from Cumberland Island.  Though this order has expired, the park service has yet to act.  Horses do belong on Cumberland Island, but due to the absence of natural predators, some need to periodically be removed…unless the park imports a pride of African lions–a move I would favor.


Hulbert, Richard; and Ann Pratt

“New Pleistocene (Rancholabrean) Vertebrate Faunas from Coastal Georgia”

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18 (2) June 1998

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8 Responses to “Feral Horses Belong on the Georgia Coast and are a Natural Part of America’s Ecosystem”

  1. Robert Bowman Says:

    I think you can disagree with Martin without calling him a “fucking idiot” or Jack Kingston a “dumbass redneck.” Degrading people with whom you disagree does not add to the strength of your comments

  2. markgelbart Says:

    I call it as I see it, and I pride myself on telling the truth. Jack Kingston is a dumbass redneck…that is the truth.

    At least 1 study shows you are wrong. I can’t recall off the top of my head who conducted this study, but they found that people who used brief insulting name-calling had more influence on public opinion than people who gave long nuanced points of view.

    When I have time, I’ll look up the study.

    • Mark L Says:

      Why African lions? There’s a lion MUCH closer that can do an adequate job of keeping horse numbers in check….and its endemic to the area. Think locally, Mark.

      • markgelbart Says:

        There is no local lion endemic to the area.

        A cougar is not a lion. It’s a completely different cat.

      • Mark L Says:

        Sure Mark, sure. Panthers…..my point (which you skimmed by in your derogation) is that a local large felid can do a decent job of hunting and controlling horse numbers….for example see compaints of puma (mountain -lion-) attacks on horses out west.

      • markgelbart Says:

        I wasn’t being derogatory. I’m just pointing out that there is a big difference between Puma concolor and Panthera leo.

        I know cougars kill horses, but they would be more likely to go after the deer instead. The deer are overpopulated on that island and need to be killed too.

        A pride of lions would be more effective because they would regularly take out a good portion of the horses and would wander less. A cougar would be apt to wander far off the island. They’d probably only take out the occastional foal, if they even stayed on the island.

  3. jamesrobertsmith Says:

    I’ve argued with people about this a lot. Horses evolved here in North America. The only reason they weren’t here when the Europeans arrived is that the Native Americans had hunted the horse to extinction.

    Now they’re back and some people complain because they see them as damaging ecosystems??!! Give me a break.

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