Wild horse captures hit permit record
There were a record 216 wild horses captured in Alberta between December 2011 and February 2012, according to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, leaving almost 790 wild horses left in the area west of Sundre.
“We have observations … after this year’s capture period … we still have at a minimum 778 horses on the part of the eastern slopes that wild horses have been observed to occur in. When I say a minimum (that’s) because we don’t have surveys in areas where there’s lesser density. We know there’s a very healthy population of horses there,” said Dave Ealy, spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
The permits for more captures were issued because observations indicated the population of horses was greater this year than in the past.
In the past, the government has issued permits to take about 150 horses per year, but not all the horses were captured in the past, Ealy said.
There is a lot of interest from people trying to reduce the impacts that wild horses have on the land, such as uprooting newly-planted seedlings and livestock grazing opportunities.
“We want to manage the impact that these horses are having on what we see as the other uses,” he said.
Ealy said the government continues to have a problem with the contention of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society that there are only about 500 wild horses remaining in Alberta.
“We really have a tough time with the continued comments from the wild horse advocates that there’s only 500 or 550 horses in the area. We know that there’s a very healthy population of horses there and that (permits are) not having an impact on the overall population,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bob Henderson, president of WHOAS, said SRD’s numbers are wildly optimistic.
“Their numbers are really inflated. It’s really funny how they go back and forth with their numbers … just to justify how they react to the media and pressure from (WHOAS). Their numbers aren’t accurate,” he said.
Ealy said SRD wants to ensure that habitat is preserved for other species such as deer, cattle and other animals.
“Our focus has always been to try and ensure that there’s enough food for the deer and the elk, the cattle who are replacing the bison, and as long as we’re good with that, then there may be some additional forage left for other takers, but we certainly don’t want to see the type of impact that we’ve been seeing,” he said.
Henderson said that focus is biased against the horses and is based on conjecture.
“They’re conjecturing facts and misrepresenting facts to Albertans that these horses are eating the grass and taking away from other animals out there. There’s no scientific basis for it,” he said, noting that thousands of cattle use the same area during the summer grazing season. Henderson has no objection to the cattle using the grasslands, but does take umbrage with the way SRD portrays the issue.
“They’re not pointing out that these cattle in there are eating grassland too,” he said.
Henderson said in some areas where cattle have grazed during the summer, there is little left after the grazing season for wildlife, but in areas where the horses are, there is plenty of grassland for all species to co-exist.
The government issues one permit for a range of horses that may be captured, rather than one permit per horse.