By Julie Woodyer as published on HorseJournels.com
“Our friends to the North share the same struggles that we do in the lower 48. Helping one another could reap great benefits for the horses.” ~ R.T.
Decision from Minister on 2016 Cull Imminent
A year-and-a-half long investigation and a review of the Alberta government’s assertions that wild horses are overpopulating the landscape and causing ecological damage has found no scientific evidence supporting those claims.
Zoocheck reviewed all publicly available materials, as well as substantial quantities of additional documentation, including letters, notes, reports and other materials, obtained through a multitude of provincial Freedom of Information requests. On-site visits were also made to observe free-roaming horses and their habitats. A technical review of the Alberta free-roaming (feral) horse management program was prepared by expert consultant biologist Wayne McCrory.
The expert report and other materials were forwarded to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips in December, 2015 to inform her 2016 capture permit decision-making process; the Minister’s decision is imminent.
“The report reveals that there is no science supporting the capture for ecological reasons of additional wild horses in Alberta. Furthermore, government officials are unable to point to any evidence of rangeland damage attributable to wild horses,” says Julie Woodyer, Campaign Director for Zoocheck.
Alberta Government representatives say they want to ensure that some wild horses remain on the landscape, but captures have continued in the absence of scientific justification for removals, and with no regard as to how many horses are necessary to ensure the genetic integrity of the free-roaming horse populations. According to the Alberta Government, there are now less than 800 free-roaming horses in all of Alberta, and they are fragmented into sub-populations, numbers that experts say are far too low.
“Wild horse populations in other parts of Canada are protected, but Alberta’s wild horses are being managed toward extinction. They have already been nearly extirpated in the Brazeau Equine Zone due to government sanctioned captures,” Woodyer adds. “We hope the Minister will move this issue away from making a purely political decision to satisfy the small subset of ranchers who don’t want the horses, to what the information and science actually shows.”
Ecologist Report: Wild Horses Serve Useful Ecological Function
Renowned wild horse ecologist Craig Downer recently released his own expert report on the Alberta wild horse issue. Downer describes extensive damage by logging, oil and gas, ranching and other industries in the Alberta Foothills, and says that retaining healthy wild horse populations on the landscape is a key strategy to its recovery.
During his 12-day visit to the Alberta foothills, Downer conducted 38 ecological evaluations in various diverse types of habitat. He describes in detail severe damage from human activities, and outlines how horses assist in building healthy soil and dispersing more intact seeds from a greater variety of plants as compared to cattle. He recommends that wild horses who coevolved with the habitats they now live in be allowed to fill their ecological niche and play their natural role.
Zoocheck forwarded Downer’s report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips in early January, 2016 to inform her 2016 capture permit decision-making process.
“Craig Downer’s new report provides critical information to help recover Alberta’s natural ecosystems and outlines why wild horses are an essential part of that recovery, something not previously considered in the horse management program,” says Julie Woodyer, Campaign Director for Zoocheck. “We hope that the Minister will consider the positive ecological role wild horses play in Alberta’s ecosystems, and seek to take a science-based approach to managing horses in Alberta to better rebuild natural ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.”