Just one wild horse left on Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island, but there is no shortage of horses that could repopulate the island-

The Missoula Independent did a feature on the contentious issue of the management of the wild (or feral) horses of the West.

Alone on the Range. Only one wild horse remains on Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island. As officials look to repopulate the park, the government wrestles with the larger challenge of managing these icons of the West. By Erika Fredrickson.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

52 Responses to Alone on the Range

  1. Jay says:

    While they’re at it, maybe they could plant some pythons, nutria, and other non-natives.

  2. Virginia says:

    There is a wild horse roundup tomorrow for the McCullough Peaks area between Cody and Powell. About 122 of these horses will be sent to Rock Springs until spring and then be offered for adoption near Cody or Powell. I wonder why some of these horses couldn’t be sent to Montana. They are trying to get the herd down to 100 horses from the present 220. I plan to contact the head of FOAL (“Friends of a Legacy”) which advocates on behalf of the wild horses in the Peaks and see if they could check into this.

  3. gline says:

    Montana will also have a lovely new horse slaughterhouse next year for all those farmers/ranchers hit by hard economic times, and supposedly cant feed their horses. So the state builds a slaughterhouse for them. This slaughterhouse was vigorously opposed, by many here in MT, but won the favor of the governor. Now they want to repopulate an island with horses? Logical as ever…

  4. Barb Rupers says:

    Much as I like horses, and always admired Wild Horse Island, perhaps it would make more ecological sense to work towards only native species of mammals in that park.

  5. Ken Cole says:

    I agree with Barb.

  6. Jay says:

    Wild horses make about as much sense as wild pigs. They belong on farms, not public lands.

  7. April Clauson says:

    How about putting all those horses that the farmers/ranchers can not feed anymore? better than killing them!

  8. Ken Cole says:

    Sorry, but I don’t think public lands are a suitable place for domestic livestock and that includes horses.

  9. Ryan says:


    Why, so they can wreak havoc on the native ecosystem on a scale per AUM that is ~60% higher than cattle and provide no rest for the land.

  10. Barb Rupers says:

    Burying a horse is quite an ordeal. I can understand why some people would rather turn their horse “free” on BLM land than have to deal with digging a hole to accepr the body or pushing them over the road side in a steep canyon. I do not thinka horse slaughter house is such a bad idea.

  11. ProWolf in WY says:

    How big of an area is Wild Horse Island? At least on the BLM lands horse populations are kept smaller and it is a bigger piece of land.

  12. Save bears says:

    Wild horse Island is only 2164 acres.

    He is the FWP info page about it..


  13. JB says:

    Since everyone is keen on removing “non-natives” I think it’s high time we did something about pheasant and all of those non-native fish that get stocked into our lakes, rivers, and streams.

  14. Virginia says:

    JB – I think you have a good point – are the cattle on public lands native species or non-native species? Have the wild horses been on public lands long enough to be considered a native species or not? My source at FOAL told me that he fears that since there is only once horse left means they are probably in the process of removing them completely.

  15. Dbosco says:

    How about giving the park to some bison instead…horses are beautiful animals but are in no need of additional habitat.

  16. DB says:

    JB – I’m sure you’re being facetious. Maybe it would be nice to replace millions of acres of soybeans and corn with native prairie and bring back sharptails and prairie chickens. As it is we’ve got pheasants in a completely different habitat. Same with brook trout back east. When logging and pollution warmed streams, native brook trout were replaced by brown trout. Some non-natives were simply introduced into habitats where there was a vacancy, chukars and valley quail in many areas throughout the west, for example. No doubt there have been some inappropriate introductions, but without many non-natives, our changed, and often despoiled landscapes, would be even poorer.

  17. mikepost says:

    I cant think of a situation where allowing non-natives to flourish on an island habitat has not been some kind of eco-disaster. Because of all the extremist views about wild horses and the lack of slaughterhouses, many domestic horses with little in the way of wilderness foraging and survival skills are being dumped on public land. This sets up these horses for a substandard painful existence and introduces domestic strain DNA into the celebrated “wild horse” gene pool. You have to pick the frying pan or the fire, there is no rose garden no matter how much you may wish there was.

  18. Save bears says:

    Well Wild Horse Island was actually used as protected pasture land by the Native Americans in that area to prevent theft of their horses by neighboring tribes, so the name is a bit of a misnomer as the horse strains on the island were Semi domesticated horses

  19. Ryan says:

    “domestic strain DNA into the celebrated “wild horse” gene”


    You can look up the north american wild horse gene in any biology book. Its right between the Jackalope and Easter Bunny genetic codes.

  20. Percy says:

    Actually, there were equids in North America up until 11,000 years ago, but I don’t think the modern domesticated horse belongs in natural ecosystems.

  21. mikepost says:

    Ryan, I’ll bet no one hid eggs for you when you were a child…allow the horsey folks their dreams. That said, there is a recognized process where hybridized animals begin to revert back to original genetic profiles over many generations of random breeding.

  22. Ryan says:

    “I’ll bet no one hid eggs for you when you were a child…allow the horsey folks their dreams”

    Not at the expense of fragile desert ecosystems, coyotes, ravens, and buzzards all got to eat too.

  23. Save bears says:

    I am pretty sure, there were mammoths up until about 11000 years ago as well, but that does not mean they belong in the eco-system now, there are no “wild” horses in North America, there are however feral horses in North America…

  24. Percy says:

    Save bears, if that comment was to me, then you misunderstood me, because I don’t feel feral horses belong in the wild here either. And certainly not managed so as to enhance their distribution and populations! I was just trying to point out that for humans to pick one point in time and select that as what is “normal” is kind of like denying that things are always evolving and changing. Our species has only been here for one tiny speck of time ourselves.

  25. Save bears says:

    Actually Percy,

    As more discoveries are studied, it is being found that the human species have been around for a long time.

    I don’t deny things are continually changing and evolving, and I agree, these are feral horses and don’t need to be perpetuated…they are not a native species in the West, the Native equine species went extinct…

  26. ProWolf in WY says:

    That would be interesting to see buffalo on the island. They could get a good source herd from the National Bison Range not too far away.

    I think it’s high time we did something about pheasant and all of those non-native fish that get stocked into our lakes, rivers, and streams.

    As much as I love hunting pheasants, I sometimes wonder if we should be stocking them. The same goes for chukars, wild turkeys, mountain goats, and moose. I think there should be much more priority given to truly native species. I say this even though I enjoy watching wild horses as well.

  27. Save bears says:


    Actually Turkeys are native, mountain goats are native, moose are native. Am I reading your message incorrectly?

  28. ProWolf in WY says:

    I meant turkeys, moose, and mountain goats into areas where they are not native. Like moose and mountain goats in Colorado and turkeys in places like the Black Hills.

  29. Save bears says:

    Actually turkeys were pretty much native to the whole of North America, and were very abundant when Europeans came to this part of the world, there are diary entries from the Spanish talking about large birds with beards and “Fans” which is of course turkeys, there are records of the Moose in Colorado and Mountain goats inhabited the Northern Rockies, there are documented cave paintings of all three of these species in many places in the west, and passed down stories of turkeys by native Americans…

  30. ProWolf in WY says:

    I knew turkeys were native most places but I had thought there were other places they were not. I have read in lots of publications that mountain goats were only native to parts of Idaho, Washington, and Montana in the Lower 48. How old of cave paintings are these that have mountain goats? Could it have been something that is now extinct?

    I guess I was wrong about the moose. I had thought their natural range was only into northern Utah. This is what the Colorado Division of Wildlife says about them: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Education/TeacherResources/ColoradoWildlifeCompany/MooseAndMenCWCF00.htm. I guess they just weren’t breeding.

    This is what they say about mountain goats: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/Profiles/Mammals/Mountaingoat.htm

  31. Barb Rupers says:

    I think bison from the National Bison Range south of Polson Montana could be a benifical addition to Wild Horse Island; or, possibly, those brucelosis free bison that are being held somewhere else in Montana that originated from the pure bison of Yellowstone Park. But then, perhaps the island is too small to sustain such a herd.

  32. Save bears says:

    2100 acres is pretty small to try and maintain a bison herd.

    Also I have read that FWP has decided that private ownership of the bison held north of Yellowstone is now ok, Ted Turner has showed interest in taking them.

  33. Save bears says:

    2100 acres is just a little over 3 miles

  34. Barb Rupers says:

    “2100 acres is just a little over 3 miles.. ”
    Being a picky ex-math teacher; the units are miles squared; an area measure, not a linear measure.

    Save bears – I appreciate your many posts.

  35. Barb Rupers says:

    This is good news from Save bears: “Also I have read that FWP has decided that private ownership of the bison held north of Yellowstone is now ok, Ted Turner has showed interest in taking them.”

  36. Save bears says:

    No problem Barb,

    Of course I thought it was assumed it would be square miles. The island is 2164 square acres, which would equal 3.38125 mi²

    When I worked for Fish Wildlife and Parks, we actually did a feasibility study on putting Bison on Wild Horse Island

  37. Save bears says:

    Opps, forgot to add a smiley!


  38. Cris Waller says:

    “Since everyone is keen on removing “non-natives” I think it’s high time we did something about pheasant and all of those non-native fish that get stocked into our lakes, rivers, and streams.”

    Not sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but I totally agree. Stocking non-native birds just to be shot is one example of an activity that’s totally opposite of managing for healthy ecosystems, not hunter desires. Killing native predators to “protect” these non-native gamebirds is even more egregious.

    As far as turkeys, they aren’t native to San Diego County, and when they were introduced here- solely for hunting- I wrote our DFG with concerns that they would compete with our native mule deer for rapidly diminishing supplies of native acorns (oak savannah is one of the most endangered habitats here.)

    As far as the fish- why swamp superior native genetics, and introduce whirling disease and other epizootics in the process?

    Ecosystems aren’t giant game farms or trout ponds, and they don’t belong to hunters or fishermen.

  39. Barb Rupers says:

    Save bears,
    “we actually did a feasibility study on putting Bison on Wild Horse Island”
    And it was probably not feasible? In what year was that study done?

  40. Save bears says:


    I did say “Virtually” but here is a link to a very interesting read on California Turkeys…


  41. Save bears says:


    That was an internal study, that never gained much traction, due to the limitations of the island itself. It was done in the late 90’s Of course anytime a study done, formal or informal and it concerns Bison it becomes a political bomb shell and with Raciot as governor back then, there was no chance in hell of it gaining any traction…

  42. Barb Rupers says:

    What can we now do to help bison expansion in Montana?

  43. Save bears says:


    About the only thing, is to break the strangle hold the Livestock association has over the land, same as most of the wildlife issues in this country, they are governed by the Livestock industry..one of the reasons I left the agency, was due to the fact, anytime we worked on a project to expand habitat for indiginious species, we had to meet with the livestock association and negotiate, which in my belief is a piss poor way to run an agency that is suppose to be for wildlife..I am not as much anti ranching as I am pro wildlife, and believe that wildlife should take the lead over cattle and sheep..

  44. ProWolf in WY says:

    with Raciot as governor back then, there was no chance in hell of it gaining any traction…

    I don’t think there is much more of a chance with Schweitzer.

    Cris, I worry about competition from non-natives that are there just for the purpose of hunting. I have read that the White Sands National Monument is trying to remove the gemsbok from its lands. I have also read about competition between Barbary sheep and desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico. I have to agree that our ecosystems are not game farms or trout ponds, but I do have to admit that pheasant hunting is a lot of fun.

  45. Save bears says:


    Schweitzer is actually a lot more pro bison, than most of the governors who have served in Montana in the past, he really has his hands tied, due to the amount of represenatives that are pro ranching or actually ranchers themselves. As long as the state of Montana continues to elect pro ranching interests to serve at the state level, there won’t be a whole lot of progress

  46. JB says:

    I guess I was being half facetious. I just find it ironic how people are willing to jump on the non-native bandwagon when it suits their purpose, but promote non-natives when it doesn’t. Frankly, I think most people who say they want to manage ecosystems for “ecosystem health”, “ecosystem integrity” or “biodiversity” are full of shit. People seem to want to pick and choose the species that are present, regardless of their “role” in ecosystems.

  47. Elk275 says:

    Wildhorse Island is home to over 200 mountain sheep and at 2000 plus acres there is only so much feed. There is no room for bison

  48. Layton says:


    “I think most people who say they want to manage ecosystems for “ecosystem health”, “ecosystem integrity” or “biodiversity” are full of shit. People seem to want to pick and choose the species that are present, regardless of their “role” in ecosystems.”

    Ohmigod!!! We actually DO agree on something!! You sure you don’t want to retract that statement??

  49. Save bears says:


    I pretty much agree, problem is, most people are not aware of all of the ecosystem, only the part that is the glamorous part of the ecosystem.

  50. JB says:

    No, Layton. I’m happy to agree with you from time to time. 😉

    In all seriousness, these ecology-based arguments (and the hunting community is just as guilty of using them when it suits their purpose) frustrate me because they obscure the true source of contention: the fact that people disagree about what the lands should produce. This is pure conjecture, but I think these arguments get used because their use paints the people who use them in a positive light–i.e. as the person who wants to protect “degraded” ecosystems. In reality, the ecosystem isn’t degraded–just changed. What IS degraded is our experience of that place. In my view, arguing that you are directly impacted by the actions of another on public land–that is, that their actions degrade your experience is a much more persuasive than arguing that their actions degrade the landscape.

    Anyway, it’s too early for this sort of thing….I haven’t even had my coffee yet!

  51. ProWolf in WY says:

    People seem to want to pick and choose the species that are present, regardless of their “role” in ecosystems.”

    JB, I have to agree with you and Layton on that one.

  52. jdubya says:

    This is an interesting Monday morning read..


    “” In an interview with The Associated Press, Crow said the romantic symbols of the American West are being sacrificed, in part, because of ranchers’ drive for land. She disputed the government’s position that booming mustang numbers are threatening the horses with starvation, and harming arid rangelands and native wildlife.

    “I think there has to be a better way than taking them away from their native lands,” she said by phone from New York. “I feel so passionate about the issue because wild horses are one of the last remaining ties to the land as it was and our history in America.”

    Native lands? I thought they were an invasive species.


October 2009


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey