Hard to believe that only 2 1/2 weeks ago the hillsides in wild horse country still had lots of snow covering them. Finally, though, it has warmed up dramatically and most of the snow is now gone. Now the wild horses can start to recover from the very long and harsh winter.
Where the herds were able to find open hillsides, the foals born were able to survive and move out with the herds. This brand new little one was one of those lucky ones who survived because of the open hillsides. Unfortunately for many of the foals born in the early part of April where the snow was still so deep and crusted, their survival rate was extremely low.
Here she is three weeks later looking healthy and following her mare as the herd continually moved to search for the new green grass.
Due to the way that the cold and snow hung on for so long most of the wild horses are still very thin, but now it will not take them too long to recover. As with the foals, we know of several adult horses that succumbed to the adverse conditions just unable to move about and paw through the deep snow to find enough forage. This is nature and goes to show that our Alberta wild horses do have to endure a lot of hardships in order to survive in our foothills.
Although most of the roads are now dry some of the back trails are still a little muddy, but we are able to check on the horses a little easier. As we travel by vehicle and on foot it is so wonderful to see the foals with their herds, now looking very healthy and full of life.
We are always out there trying to locate the different herds that we know and always wondering where a certain herd or stallion is when we can not locate them.
This is all part of the research we are doing as part of our MOU’s with the Alberta government. We continue to work toward collecting data and information to show that here is a more efficient and humane method to manage our wild horse population. One of the things that has always come up since the Feral Horse Advisory Committee, (FHAC) was initiated by the government is the science that they use to justify some of their population management decisions, such as culling. The one study was done in the late 1970’s by Richard Salter who did his thesis on wild horses and their affect on the landscape. Now I have been roaming these Alberta foothills since the 1960’s and many others who have been doing the same, know how dramatically and drastically the whole ecosystems of this country have changed. So a study done then has little relevance to the horses today.
The other research that is used by the AEP is the one done by Tisa Girard in 2008/09. In this study she was studying habitat selection of the wild horses. With her work she radio collared 4 horses in order to study this, but it was done in the McLean Creek area of Kananaskis Country. This is an all year round area dedicated to the use of ATVs and any day of the week there are large numbers of users moving about the trails. In this case how could the horses that were studied not be affected in their movements and habitat selection by the large number of ATVs?
WHOAS has always questioned the AEP’s use of these two particular research projects and we knew that more up-to-date scientific research needed to be done to help understand what affect that the wild horses may have on the landscape and other wildlife using these areas. Without it how could proper wild horse management policies be put into place by the government? In 2016 we were in contact with Dr. P.McLoughlin from the U of S in regards to maybe committing to a new research project in regards to this. Dr. McLoughlin has been a leading researcher in regards to the Sable Island horses and other wildlife species in other Canadian provinces. He agreed to look in to beginning such a research program and in 2017 received permission from the university to initiate the research. The one thing that this project had to be was completely independent so that bias could not be used to influence the results. This project also had the approval of the AEP.
In the spring of 2017 a researcher, Paul Boyce, under Dr. McLoughlin’s supervision began the research work, which will take several years, on the wild horses. All last summer and into the fall the horses were being studied and numerous trail cams were used to track the horses in different areas. The idea of using radio tracking collars on the horses is still important and after numerous consultations with the AEP a 3-week long permit was issued for the trapping and release of some horses in order to accomplish this. WHOAS did supply the equipment for a catch pen and manpower to set it up. One stipulation was that no pregnant mares would be confined to be collared and in late March a pen was set up in order to attempt to catch and collar 2 horses in the area around the Red Deer River ranger station. Due to the conditions it took almost two weeks before some horses entered the trap. Before the researchers could respond to the pen, someone else came along and released the horses from the pen. So no horses were collared as the capture permit expired before any other horses could be captured. The collared horses would have been tracked by GPS and the collars would have the capability of being released remotely. This research is going to be vital in future management decisions around the wild horses.
Now I go into all this detail, only to let our followers and horse lovers know what is happening and the setback caused by the individuals that released the horses. They may say they care about the horses but in fact they are doing an extreme amount of harm to the overall welfare of our wild horses and their future. We should not forget, as WHOAS was reminded of in our last meeting with the AEP, that there are still many groups and individuals that want the wild horse numbers drastically reduced or even completely removed.
In the aerial census done by the AEP in January of 2018 the count that they came in for the Sundre Equine Zone was 1015 horses, where in 2017 it was 661 horses. Now this was not the actual minimum number of horses seen as in previous years. It is an estimate using a new way of coming up with a population of the horses from the air. This is called “distance sampling” and if a certain number of horses are counted in a certain area then it could be estimated there is a certain percentage more. ??????? Another factor that raises some concerns with me is that in previous years an independent observer accompanied the government staff during the survey. This year that did not occur.
Enough with all of this and let’s get back to the babies!!!!! We will continue to keep you up-to-date on the new foals with the herds and what is also happening to your wild horses. The horses will be okay now as the green grass comes on even more quickly.
We also want to thank all of you that came out to our Fund Raising dinner at the Olds Legion, which was a huge success on Saturday May 5. Thanks to the legion staff for providing an excellent dinner again and to all you wonderful people who donated items to the silent auction. Also a huge thanks to Lori and Merle Fox for arranging this annual event, once again.