By Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald
Status as a heritage species sought
CALGARY — A group working to save Alberta’s wild horses is trying to get better protection for the animals that live along the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.
Bob Henderson, president of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society, would like to see the provincial government enact legislation to protect the animals and grant them status as a heritage species.
“They give the animals no respect,” he said, noting the horses have a rich history in the province going back to the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in the late 1800s and the First World War.
Alberta allows for the capture of the horses, with an average of 30 caught each year.
In 2011-2012, under the management plan, 216 horses were rounded up. Henderson said more than 90 per cent of the captured animals are sent for slaughter.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development hasn’t decided whether to issue permits to allow any of the estimated 778 horses to be captured this winter.
“It’s partly because we spent the fall talking to a number of stakeholders to figure out a way to increase the transparency in the management plan,” said Jessica Potter, a spokeswoman for the department. “There’s quite a bit of information that was brought back … so it just seems prudent to go through it first before we make a decision.”
However, she said they won’t consider new legislation.
“We believe that our regulatory approach has been effective to date,” said Potter, noting the horses are protected through both the Stray Animals Act and horse capture regulations. “New legislation isn’t going to guarantee protection.”
Potter said the province needs to be able to manage the horse population.
“There is a misconception that we want to eliminate them. We don’t,” she said. “We want a healthy population and that requires management.
“They compete with a lot of different players on the landscape. They compete with livestock. They compete with native species. They have quite a negative impact on regeneration of trees so it’s not a matter of getting rid of them. It’s a matter of ensuring the population that exists is in balance with other users.”
Henderson maintained the legislation is inadequate, adding the horses have a minimal impact on the environment.
“They continue to use the same arguments … year after year after year based on no scientific evidence and old prejudices,” he said. “In a lot of cases, they actually benefit the ecosystem as it exists.
“We believe they have a right to be there.”