Province more receptive to wild horse control proposals: society

A longtime opponent of Alberta’s wild horse capture program believes the government is growing more receptive to other options.

A longtime opponent of Alberta’s wild horse capture program believes the government is growing more receptive to other options.

Bob Henderson, of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, was encouraged by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s response to recent proposals to reduce horse populations where needed through contraception and foal adoption programs.

“They’re listening and it appears they are willing to take our proposals seriously,” Henderson said on Thursday.

“We’re certainly a lot more optimistic than we were earlier this year.”

Department spokesperson Carrie Sancartier confirmed the government is reviewing the society’s proposals among other management options for the horses that the government considers feral rather than wild.

Henderson believes growing public opposition to the annual capture — or cull in opponent’s eyes — has been changing government attitudes.

“Definitely, public pressure has got to them.”

This year’s program only saw 15 horses rounded up even though permits were available to remove up to 200.

The Feral Horse Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from trappers, ranchers, horse, animal welfare, veterinarian and conservation organizations, met last week in Red Deer to discuss the latest population count.

The annual tally done each March estimated the West Country horse population at 880, down about 10 per cent from last year’s count.

A harsh winter is to blame for much of that. Henderson said the numbers have likely dropped further since as weakened animals have died struggling to find enough food under a stubborn snow cover.

Those against the capture program feel those numbers vindicate their position that nature controls horse populations.

However, there is still concern on the committee that horse populations in specific areas, especially in the Sundre area, remain too high.

That’s where the contraception program, presented to the committee by two veterinarians, including Bragg Creek veterinarian Judith Sampson-French, comes in. Eighteen mature mares would be selected for injection through darts of a vaccine that will prevent them from getting pregnant for three years to control populations.

The Wild Horse Society also is promoting a plan to create a handling and education facility to house wild horses to further control populations if needed. Those animals would be cared for and trained by an onsite staffer and then adopted out.

A supporter has offered to donate land, with the details being finalized.

Henderson said the society would bankroll the cost of both programs through donations and is in the process of establishing charitable status, which will boost fundraising by allowing tax receipts to be issued.

The committee is expected to further discuss the society proposals at its June 22 meeting.

Sancartier said a decision has not been made yet on whether a capture will happen next winter.

“The committee will continue to meet throughout the spring. A decision about a capture season next winter would likely happen later this year,” she said.