Ducks vs. Horses: Supporters spar over which one to protect

Posted at 6:46 PM, Nov 08, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-08 18:46:02-05

They used to co-exist on the shores of Currituck County.

The wild horses roamed, and the ducks nested, but now humans vowing to protect their favored species are battling it out in Congress.

“Suddenly, now it’s a problem when for five centuries there have been plenty of ducks all along the Outer Banks.”

On the horses' side is Karen McCalpin, executive director for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Her main concern is the genetic makeup of what she calls a "dying herd."

“They are incredibly inbred and all come from one maternal blood line,” said McCalpin.

It’s resulted in horses who drag their feet through the sand because of locked patellas.Others are unable to eat properly because of parrot mouth.

Locked patella

Parrot Mouth

Even foals are being born miniature size, only able to grow as big as a pony.

“My biggest fear is that within a few generations, they will be gone,” said McCalpin.

So the Fund went to Capitol Hill for help, and in February, the House of Representatives passed the Corolla Wild Horse Protection Act.

“We have to have this legislation. It’s critical if they are going to be here for future generations,” said McCalpin.

For years, an agreement between all local stakeholders mandated a herd level of 60.

Now, the bill in front of the Senate would raise the minimum number of horses to 110.

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“That is the genetic minimum to keep them healthy. We have been told to keep them at 60, and that is managing for extinction,” said McCalpin.

With the future of the beloved herd in jeopardy, supporters thought the bill would breeze right through the Senate.

That is, until the attack of the Ducks with a letter sent by the group called 'Ducks Unlimited.'

It urges senators to vote against the legislation because it will "create a horse sanctuary at the expense of waterfowl hunters across the nation."

“They don’t have this thing against the horses, they just have land they bought for a purpose, and they are seeing the horses having an impact on that purpose.”

On the ducks' side is Mike Bryant, supervisor for the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

Horses roam on a part of the refuge's land which was originally bought and paid for by the duck stamp.

Duck hunters all over the nation are required to buy the stamps to support their sport, but they say the herd, which is now up to 119 horses, eats up the ducks' habitat.

“The higher the number, the more the impact,” said Bryant. “We lose the cover, which is protection and nesting areas for these birds.”

To guard those sensitive wetlands and marshes, the refuge put up fences. Pictures document the difference in the growth of vegetation without the horses.

It’s yet another reason they are dead set against the horse bill. It would bar the refuge from building any more fences in the future without meeting strict conditions.

“They are what they are, horses, and we don’t hold that against them.
But they are going to graze, and we have to manage our land for its purpose, otherwise we aren't doing our job,” said Bryant.

Both ducks and horses are just trying to survive. So can common ground be found? NewsChannel 3 asked both sides.

“If you want to put fences up, that’s fine with me, what is not negotiable is the number,” said McCalpin.

“No, if I have to build more fences, that costs money. If I have to monitor more, in the face of more horses, that’s people and money,” said Bryant.

Two threatened species with only one winner.

Can these humans find it within themselves to compromise?