On June 3, the full U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would help protect a herd of wild horses residing on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But the executive director of the organization that manages the herd says the battle to ensure the horses’ future is only half won.
More than 100 feral horses in the so-called Corolla herd reside on the Currituck Outer Banks; 70% of those reside on lands owned by private individuals and corporations while the remainder resides on a 7,500-acre sanctuary in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) manages the animals while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the refuge. Under an existing agreement between the Interior Department, the state of North Carolina, Currituck County, and the CWHF, the maximum number of horses allowed in the herd is 60.
Elsewhere on the Outer Banks, a herd of more than 110 wild horses currently resides at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
In January 2013, North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. introduced HR 126, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act, which would allow a small number of free-roaming wild horses from the Cape Lookout National Seashore herd to be introduced as necessary to maintain the genetic viability of the herd in and around the refuge. The legislation also calls for a public-private management agreement plan for the horses that allows would allow a herd population of no more than 130 horses with a target herd population of between 120 and 130 animals.
With the House nod, the bill now moves on to the U.S. Senate for review.
Currituck National Wildlife Refuge manager Mike Hoff was unavailable for comment.
Karen McCalpin, executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, believes the herd expansion is reasonable.
“Bringing a few mares as long as we don’t exceed population limits should not be a problem,” McCalpin said. “Not only are these horses symbols of hope … but they have major tourism value to North Carolina.”
Previous similar legislation that sailed through the House fared poorly in the Senate, McCalpin said. Last year, House members passed HR 306, which represented nearly identical legislation to HR 126. That bill died in committee in the Senate.
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan was not available for comment on the bill.