Champions of Alberta’s wild horses are disappointed that a roundup is about to take place, but they say much progress has been made in protecting the population.
Up to 60 wild horses could be captured this month in a scaled-down program to manage their populations in the West Country.
Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) president Bob Henderson said while it’s unfortunate the province sees a need for any capture, he recognizes the government has made significant changes in its handling of the issue.
WHOAS has been given permission to undertake a program already underway to vaccinate 19 mares this winter to keep populations down and more than 20 acres of land has been donated by a landowner to provide a space to keep and protect wild horses that had to be moved.
“When we signed our memorandum of understanding, (the province) made it clear they may go into other areas to (capture).
“But I have to admit we are truly grateful that they are working hard to ensure our area stays OK, that the horses they are going to catch are a ways away from our area. They are committed to helping our programs work.”
The society had hoped any capture programs would be put on hold to see what effect the pregnancy vaccination program had on reducing the roughly 900 horses counted in the West Country early last year.
About 240 are located in the area set aside for this year’s capture, he said.
Besides dramatically reducing the capture target from last year’s 200 total — which saw only 15 horses actually rounded up — the province has adopted other measures to address some of the concerns raised by vocal supporters of the province’s wild horses.
Unlike past years, the RCMP has taken over the job of overseeing horse wranglers under the Stray Animals Act.
All horses captured must first be available for adoption, and then will go to auction. In past years, those holding capture permits decided where the horses ended up, said Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spokesman Duncan MacDonnell.
The roundup is meant to reduce a horse population that is damaging rangeland in the area, said MacDonnell. In some areas, the horse grazing is exceeding by more than double the levels needed to protect the rangeland.
The government doesn’t consider the horses truly wild, but rather feral horses descended from workhorses used in logging and mining operations in the early 1900s, as well as abandoned animals.
“They’re going to give us first dibs on the horses that they bring in,” said Henderson.
He said he’d love to take in all horses captured but limited finances and space at their wild horse preserve mean a maximum of 20 can be accepted.
“The most unfortunate thing is we have to make a decision: who do we take and save and rescue, and which horse do we have to turn our back on?
“That’s a really, really hard thing to do, but we actually have no choice — we are limited by what we can do for the horses.”
Younger horses that are more easily “gentled” and possible candidates for adoption will be favoured.
Those not adopted will go to auction, where buyers looking for horses for recreation, or their value as meat, can bid.