A group dedicated to protecting Alberta’s wild horses is disputing the government’s claim of a huge spike in horses in the Sundre equine management zone.
Earlier this week the Ministry of Forests and Park’s new management framework reported that more than 1,400 feral horses are currently located across six equine management zones (EMZ), including 969 in the Sundre EMZ, up from 642 last year.
But Darrell Glover, founder and president of Help Alberta Wildies Society (HAWS), said the government didn’t say it added 500 km to its flight path when counting the horses compared to last year.
“The truth is the population is not growing. The truth is the population is actually decreasing,” Glover said.
“With the 75 trail cameras we have out, we have thousands of clips of all the horses in the Williams Creek area and we have lost approximately 70 per cent of all the 2023 foals already to predators.”
He said both HAWS and the government flew the same, smaller flight path in 2022. HAWS counted 659 horses, and the government found 642. This year when HAWS flew that path they counted 25 more horses.
“The government narrative for many, many years was always about skyrocketing populations in the wild horses. We have debunked that several times. Now is no different.”
The government’s 2023 feral horse count also showed 97 horses in Clearwater EMZ, 33 in Nordegg EMZ, 18 in Brazeau EMZ, 311 in Ghost River EMZ, and 84 (2022 estimate) in Elbow EMZ. Counts establish the minimum number of horses in the zones.
The province says the new management framework was developed to recognize feral horses and ensure their sustainability, and includes a pilot project to capture and put distressed or nuisance feral horses into adoption programs.
The new plan also allows government to better support the horses, while continuing to protect rangelands and other animals that live on the landscape.
“While past efforts to inform and engage Albertans on feral horses were unsuccessful, our management framework outlines clear, simple and honest efforts that we hope will resonate with Albertans and ensure we maintain the sustainability of the landscape where feral horses live. Alberta’s feral horses are part of our culture and are appreciated by many Albertans,” said Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen, in a statement.
The province says as the feral horse population grows, horses move from areas with good foraging opportunities into areas that are less able to support them. This puts pressure on other wildlife and livestock and creates challenges for ecological stability.
Glover said it is “absolute garbage” to argue that wild horses are impacting the ecosystem.
“The government has yet to prove that the horses have any impact on the environment. They keep saying it, but they haven’t proved it.”
He said HAWS members travel around the Sundre zone two to three times a week and they know what is damaging the landscape — cattle.
Ranchers, who lobby hard for free grazing cattle, are complaining about horses eating grass which is why the province wants to get rid of more horses, Glover said.
“(Ranchers) want that grass. They want less horses to put out more cows.”