On Tuesday June 24 another meeting of the ESRD’s stakeholders wild horse group was held. This one took place west of Sundre as we learned about how the agrologists for the ESRD evaluate the status of rangeland health. We first met at the Sundre Museum where a presentation was done on this information. It was somewhat satisfying that the wild horses are now listed in the consumptive demands for the range. Unfortunately they still rate the cattle as number one, followed by wildlife and then the horses. Cattle also far exceed the number of horses on the range and probably the wildlife ungulates also. The legislation that dictates cattle stocking rates was put in place in the 1970’s and is still in effect now. Considering the vast changes that have taken place since then, sustainability should take precedence over this policy.
We travelled into the forestry and attended two assessment sites where we were shown the techniques used by Rangeland Management to come up with the AUMs for each of the 10 grazing allotments in the Sundre zone.
I found the day informative, but still have questions in my mind about how this information is used to try to determine the number of horses that the range may sustain without negative impact. The trip reinforced that there are many factors affecting rangeland health which must be managed, not just the horses. The wild horses continually move throughout the range including the areas we visited, rather than overgrazing one area.
The other point was that the clearcut blocks and the grass within them are not counted in these equations. We were given a map of the clear cuts throughout this area of the eastern slopes which shows such a very large area of clear cutting that has and continues to happen in our forests.
Even in this presentation it was pointed out that the wild horses prefer the cut blocks for grazing. WHOAS agrees with this point and believe that it should be taken into consideration when determining wild horse populations. Even though it was stated that the horses prefer these areas, only the negative aspects of the horses being in these cutblocks were presented.
1/ The horse will eat tops from the seedlings – scientifically disproven in several other jurisdictions. We also question what other species inhabit these same areas that do or will eat pine seedlings (e.g., moose).
2/ That the wild horses cause damage by stepping on and damaging the seedlings. However, Dr. Irving’s research here in Alberta shows that this impact from horses is extremely small. It was pointed out that the timber companies are legislated to reforest. I then wonder about the recreational users, (quads, muddders and dirt bikes), who do far more damage, why it was not brought up.
My biggest objection to using this argument against the horses, is the record that the forestry industry has in what they are doing to the forests in our eastern slopes. There are many positives of having the wild horses in the cutlblocks that were not brought up. One being that they do eat the grass from around the seedlings, lessening the competition for nutrients and helping with the seedlings growth. It was also learned that day that the forest companies do not reseed for grass and it is up to natural cycles for these areas to come back, which includes the reseeding by wild horses through their droppings.
WHOAS however is very appreciative of the input we are allowed to give the ESRD in regards to wild horse management. We continue to work with them toward some solutions that will be beneficial to all stakeholders, but especially the wild horses. We have two proposals currently before the ESRD and the Minister in regards to this. We hope to hear back soon on being able to proceed with our ideas for wild horse management.
As indicated previously, one is a contraception program that will target eligible mares within certain areas where horse numbers are a concern. We would sincerely like to see this program operating by early fall this year.
The other one is the adoption program in which WHOAS will only when and if necessary, move into certain areas to remove young wild horses. Using proper sorting pens we would only remove one or two youngster from a given area. Any other horses would be released, thereby keeping the herd dynamics intact. By doing this the mature stallions and mares do not allow for indiscriminate breeding therefore lowering the reproduction rates in the overall population. This fact has been proven to be a key to managing the numbers of wild horses in many other jurisdictions throughout the world.
These young horses would then be taken to our handling facility to be gentled and then adopted out to forever homes. We would love to see them all remain free and wild, but with the policies that are currently in place within government, we may have to do this. At least they will be alive and loved. WHOAS feels that it is for the betterment of your wild horses that we continue to work with the ESRD instead of against them.
We hope to have our rescue facility in operation later this fall. One of the reasons is that in the last 3 weeks, we have had to take in 6 wild horses that had strayed onto private land. Current regulations do not allow us to relocate these wayward wildies. This boy here was taken in 3 weeks ago and we hope to start soon on the gentling process for him. As with all the stallions and colts we take in, he will be gelded by a veterinarian prior to leaving to his new forever home. The good news for the boy is that he already has a place to go.
This 3-4 year old was just taken in this past week and as it had rained a lot, he is covered with mud.
This is the reason he is not shiny and glossy in presenting him to you. Again the gentling process is just about to start and we hope to have a home for him soon too.
These two were rescued in the Bragg Creek area. The mare was 5-6 years old and the boy was only about 2 years old. They were causing trouble for the domestic horses that were on the property and therefore WHOAS stepped in to resolve the problem, operating under a permit from the ESRD. The good news about these two is that they both have a new home and are doing extremely well being gentled by their new owner.
Many people had seen this mare just inside the forestry boundaries and worried about her for a period of time. She had migrated onto private land and unfortunately the alternative for her was for WHOAS to step in and rescue her and her baby. So along with her, the filly and the first two stallions, we have four horses we are babysitting right now.
All these horses are being sheltered at one of our member’s home property. So this highlights the reason that WHOAS needs to have their handling facility up and running as soon as we can possibly do it. We hope to get support from all wild horse supporters to enable us to do this. You can buy a membership to help.