The Alberta government will decide in the coming weeks whether they will allow wild horses to continue to be captured on the east side of the Rockies.
Jag Sandhu, spokesman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said the season usually runs from December through February, when a number of licences to capture horses are available.
Sandhu said the province has been working with stakeholders to develop a more transparent strategy for managing the horses. This includes talking to the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, owners of livestock grazing rights and forestry companies.
Sandhu said the horses can be destructive to the regeneration of trees planted by forestry businesses.
They also eat grasses that deer, cattle and elk would want. Sometimes, there’s public risk because of vehicle collisions, he added.
Wayne Krejci and Shelby MacKenzie of Innisfail have written letters to the editor in the Advocate, most recently on Thursday. They are urging the province to stop the cull of wild horses.
“In the eyes of the Alberta government, these magnificent animals are considered ‘feral’,” they write.
How could these horses have escaped domestication over 200 years ago when the west was not settled nor explored, they ask.
“Alberta’s wild horses are a true heritage species and need the legislation to protect them,” they write. “The last two cull seasons, 350 head have been removed and taken to slaughter.”
Sandhu said the province is trying to maintain the horse population through humane and regulated procedures. Like all animals, he said that feral horses have protection from cruelty under the Animal Protection Act and the Criminal Code and the Stray Animals Act.
“We work with the owners of these licences and make sure they are captured in a humane way,” he said.
Rangeland agrologists work with licensees from the point that permits are issued to when the horses are captured, Sandhu said.
Brand inspectors may also be a part of the capturing process, but not always.
“Sometimes (government staff) will go out without a scheduled visit,” said Sandhu.
The permit indicates how many the licensee wants to capture and how they will capture the animals.
Sandhu said the horses can be used for rodeo stock or training, or go to the meat market, just like some domesticated horses do.
He said in the season ending in February, 237 licences were issued and out of those 216 horses were captured. In the 2010-2011 season, 172 licences were issued and 30 animals were captured. Most are found along the Eastern Slopes region east of the Rocky Mountains.
The province estimated as of last March that there were 778 horses in the area. The estimate is gathered through helicopter flyovers, plus looking at other data including weather conditions.
“We aim to capture and license up to 20 per cent of the total animals seen in the problem areas,” said Sandhu. “That gives us an indication of how many licences we will issue.”