Siskiyou, South County

Let’s Talk ‘Invasive Species’ – Cattle vs. Wild Horses

By: William E. Simpson II – Wild Horse Etholog

 Photo courtesy: Michelle Gough

What is an ‘invasive species’?

According to National Geographic’s encyclopedia:

“An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area.”

According to the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (‘USDA’) National Invasive Species Information Center:

“Domestic cows are non-native to North America and were introduced as a food source, and considered to be a beneficial organism in an agricultural setting.”

It’s apparent that the USDA realizes that the economically-ecologically driven debate over the native species status of American wild horses is a political hot-potato, and have properly avoided listing the modern horse (E. Caballus) as a non-native species in North America at its website. 

Yet the USDA does correctly list cattle as “non-native to North America”.

What the USDA intentionally omits is that those who ‘consider’ cattle as a so-called ‘beneficial organism’ are those people and entities who benefit from the commercial value of livestock production, sometimes even at the grave expense of the environment and other native species.

And what about when cattle are intentionally managed outside the so-called “agricultural setting” as stipulated by the USDA, as when they are allowed to graze into non-agricultural wilderness and forest areas? 

It’s not a valid argument (ecologically or morally) to even suggest that the economic value of a non-native invasive species somehow warrants the mismanagement of any native species merely because a native species may lack commercial economic value such as the American Bald Eagle, or in the case at hand, the native species American wild horse. 

However, in fact, when wild horses are living in wilderness areas that are both ecologically and economically appropriate, each horse living in such areas provides $72,000 in taxpayer value as wildfire fuels managers. This article details that economic value proposition: ‘The Dollars and Cents of America’s Wild Horses’:

The American insurance industry analysts who are struggling with enormous financial losses from catastrophic wildfires have caught onto the value of native species American wild horses as cost-effective wildfire fuels managers.

AM BEST TV recently showcases a short documentary titled: ‘Rewilding’ Horses Aims to Mitigate Wildfires, Reduce Insured Losses:

American wild horses are arguably grossly mismanaged by the USDA and the Bureau of Land Management (‘BLM’) merely because they are a non-commercial herbivore, unlike cattle, sheep, deer and elk that have commercial value to consumers who desire livestock products and hunting opportunities. 

It’s a plain scientific and historical fact that cattle and sheep did not evolve on the North American continent. 

In fact, there’s not a single cow or sheep fossil discovered or to be found anywhere in North America, since cattle and sheep were introduced into North America in the 16th century by European settlers.

Invasive species livestock damage the landscape:

The most severe vegetation changes of the last 5400 years occurred during the past 200 years. The nature and timing of these changes suggest that they were primarily caused by 19th-century open-land sheep and cattle ranching.

According to professor Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D:

Dr. Fleischner’s research paper, ‘Land Held Hostage: A History of Livestock and Politics’  can be read in full at this link:

So what about America’s wild horses? Are they native to the continent? Do they damage the landscape?

Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D. presented a very compelling argument in favor of the native species status of the American wild horse in their 2010 research paper titled, ‘Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife’. (

The newest data on the evolution and natural history of American wild horses integrates Indigenous Wisdom with the very latest paleontology, cultural archaeology and genetic research. The aggregate of the compiled data and research now ends the debate as to the genuine ‘native species’ status of American wild horses.

Recently, indigenous scientists, like Dr. Yvette ‘Running Horse’ Collin and others, have revealed that the latest best available science proves wild horses did in fact live in North America during the post Ice-Age period and right-up to the arrival of Columbus in 1492.  

PBS recently aired the summary documentary of this new indigenous science supporting that wild horses are a ‘native species’, which can be viewed here:

We also have the doctoral dissertation from Yvette ‘Running Horse’ Collin that cites excerpts from the exploration of the western coast of America in 1580 by Sir Francis Drake, who reported the citing of wild horses living among the local indigenous peoples here on the Oregon-California border in the immediate vicinity of the Klamath River, where our herd and private research station are located. 


The dissertation by Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin, PhD, titled; The relationship between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the horse: deconstructing a Eurocentric myth contains an important historical fact on page 39:

“The Spanish conquistadors were not the only European explorers to have noticed and recorded early sightings of horses in the Americas. In 1579, the Queen of England sent Sir Francis Drake to “The New World.” Drake also recorded having seen herds of horses in the Americas during his voyage off the coasts of what are now known as California and Oregon. An account given of Drake’s landing in the geographic areas now known as Northern California and Southern Oregon includes the English explorer’s description of the homes of the Native Peoples, as well as the animals that he encountered. “It related his wonder at seeing so many wild horses, because he had heard that the Spaniards had found no native horses in America, save those of the Arab breed which they had introduced.” In addition to accounts from explorers appointed by European kings and queens, there are accounts of native horses in South America in the area now known as Argentina. One such account even includes an explanation as to why the Spanish may have been motivated to hide the fact that the Indigenous horse of the Americas existed and had a relationship with Native Peoples. According to an article entitled Antiguedad del Caballo En El Plata (The Antiquity of the Horse in the River Plate) by Anibal Cardoso as cited by Austin Whittall on his blog site article.” 

The longstanding existence of the local heritage horses in Southern Oregon is also well documented and chronicled by the local newspapers and journals in Jacksonville, Central Point, Ashland and Medford Oregon dating back to the 1850’s.

I am also in possession of the diary and photo album of a famous area part indigenous cowboy and Jackson County Oregon deputy sheriff, George F. Wright, whose family was granted property and had a cabin in the area just 2-miles from our private lands and research station by President Herbert Hoover (I have a copy of the deed signed by the President of the United State of America).

The Wright family came to California with Jedidiah Smith in 1850, and settled in the area of Hornbrook, CA shortly thereafter, being some of the first settlers in the area. Several of Thomas Jefferson Wright’s sons settled along the Camp Creek tributary feeding the Klamath River in the early 1900’s, also near our lands. The Wright family photo-album, which in of itself is a lesson in the Natural History of the area, and the photos (dating back to 1911) depicts the wildlife of the area, and also, the “wild horses” on the range here.

The fuel reduction/maintenance model that takes advantage of the symbiotic wildfire grazing by wild horses, known as the Wild Horse Fire Brigade, worked-well and helped CALFIRE stop the deadly 2018 Klamathon Fire from reaching the fuel-choked Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, sparing that old-growth forest, the wildlife therein and the college town of Ashland, Oregon. 

And it’s a well-known fact that native species American wild horses are highly beneficial to naturally operating, intact ecosystems. 

American wild horses are arguably the most understudied North American mammal, and that is by design. The truth about wild horses and their beneficial behavioral ecology present many inconvenient facts that the BLM, USFS and others prefer remain unknown. This article examines the issues related to ‘understudied’ wild horses:

Nevertheless, these important facts about American wild horses are now surfacing much to the chagrin of the BLM, USFS and some entities in the livestock production and mineral extraction industries. 

Understanding that just 120 years ago most Americans depended upon horses for their survival. America is a horse culture. 

If we are as smart as we think we are, horses can once again come to the aid of humankind.

William E. Simpson II is an ethologist living among and studying free-roaming native species American wild horses. William is the award-winning producer of the micro-documentary film ‘Wild Horses‘.  He is the author of a new Study about the behavioral ecology of wild horses, two published books and more than 150 published articles on subjects related to wild horses, wildlife, wildfire, and public land (forest) management. He has appeared on NBC NEWSABC NEWSCBS NEWS, theDoveTV and has been a guest on numerous talk radio shows including the Lars Larson Show, the Bill Meyer Show, NPR Jefferson Public Radio and NPR National Radio


  1. James Perdue

    Does it really matter if horses are labeled indigenous or native? My understanding has been that the Spanish first brought horses to the Americas and the wild horses we see today are descendants of those Spanish horses. I remember reading about fossils being discovered in North America that are horse-like animals that are much smaller than today’s horses. If we can use sheep or goats to reduce fire hazards, why not use horses, regardless if you believe they are native or not? Maybe somebody can explain the significance.

    • Mr. Perdue:

      I have over 200 published articles on natural resource management, including water, forest, fisheries and herbivores. Here is one article that explains the important differences between ruminant livestock grazing and non-ruminant horses and why those differences require careful management.
      Texas Rancher, cattleman, oilman, banker and now owner of the rancher formerly owned by the founders of DHL (air freight company, Mr. Chris Gill featured this article on his ranch website:

      Mr. Gill is one of the nation’s most highly educated and informed ranchers and the fact that he’s publishing this article (and others about horses, hunting, ranching, predators, wildfires, and more) should be carefully considered by ranchers who are just getting caught up on what new in the world of Natural History and evolution.

      Here is another article that directs the differences between ruminant herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats and deer) and non-ruminant herbivore horses:

      There’s a comment here from Mr. Lemos who is clearly misinformed and merely repeating obsolete myths about horses, who seems unwilling to read and view the scientific information that was provided in the article. Moreover, one of our Orgs. board members is Kansas cattle ranchers, Mr. Mike Schultz who is the Founder of the Kansas Cattleman’s Assn., a Life Member and Board Member of R-CALF, and a Board Member of Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) an org that protects the American Beef Industry. Mr. Schultz also agrees with my position on horses and also, wild horse management:

      Here is the Board for WILD HORSE FIRE BRIGADE:

      My email address is: [email protected]
      My phone is: 858. 212-5762

      Thanks for the question.

  2. Rick Lemos

    Modern feral horses in the Iron Gate, copco area are definitely an invasive species. People that form nonprofit groups and collect money for feeding and caring for these animals are perpetrating a fraud. These individuals should be held accountable.

    • Mr. Lemos:

      It seems you need to brush up on Science and recent research, and start by re-reading the substantive science facts cited in the article. Your conjectured opinion is not supported by any science whatsoever, just your personal opinion, and you saying something doesn’t make it even remotely true.
      And the herd of horses you are referring to are not ‘feral’! They are in fact privately-owned livestock under CA livestock law (ask Jim Smith at the AG Dept, he’ll fill you in).
      Furthermore, they are legally on the Open Range, just like your cattle that are ranging on other people’s private property under the same Open Range law. And it’s a felony crime to harm or take away any of those privately owned horses legally grazing the Open Range.
      P.S. I was on the Klamathon Fire fire-line for 9-days (July 7-16) as the local knowledge advisor to CALFIRE. I documented the benefits of our local herd of Horses, which helped CALFIRE save the Monument from being incinerated along with all the wildlife therein.
      William E. Simpson II (former producer of registered polled Hereford cattle and member FFA and Logger)

    • Mr. Lemos:

      Instead of trying to reinvent local area natural history, you would do well to pay attention to reality, namely the EATS ACT. Our (Wild Horse Fire Brigade) Board member Mike Schultz is in fact working to STOP passage of that Act, which has been silently slipped into the FARM BILL…

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