Feral Horse Advisory Committee

In September 2013, the Alberta government established an advisory committee made up of stakeholders and government staff to provide strategic input and advice on the current feral horse management strategy.

The committee’s purpose is to discuss and provide feedback on tools and options for short- and long-term management of feral horses.

Committee Supports Continued Horse Capture

In fall 2013, the Feral Horse Advisory Committee (FHAC) recommended a capture season for 2013/2014. The purpose of the capture is to manage the population.

Feral horses are not native wildlife. They have few natural predators and they share the same natural food sources as wildlife and livestock– putting serious pressure on our native plants and animals. The department works with licence holders to ensure that all feral horses are treated humanely through the capture process.

Licences can be issued for areas where feral horses are having a negative impact on native plants and animals. This is determined through population counts and range condition evidence. Licences are issued for specific zones within the designated Horse Capture area.

Committee Meeting Highlights

Tour of Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve – Jun 24, 2014

Committee members attended a tour of the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve west of Sundre where there are high populations of feral horses. The group heard presentations on range (ecological) health methodology, some history of horse populations, and a discussion of forest succession after fire or timber harvesting (both of which occur in the area and provide temporary forage that horses use). There was also a discussion on how the grazing for domestic livestock is allocated, with consideration for both wildlife use and soil protection.

The group visited native grassland sites and cutblocks in the area to learn details of health assessment, which is based on things like plant community composition that are not always seen on casual observance. The exercise showed that the native grassland sites are in poor condition as they receive grazing pressure from horses, wildlife and (for a few months of the year) livestock. They also heard about livestock management practices to address concerns with overgrazing – for example, livestock are not allowed on the area until much later in the season, and some allotment holders have voluntarily cut back on numbers.

FHAC Meeting Highlights – Apr 29, 2014

The department presented the results of the 2014 counts and analysis to the group. Data was collected via GPS track log to avoid overlapping and miscounting and to enable comparison with counts from previous years. It was noted that count methodology is improving every year. The department stressed the importance of doing the count by helicopter, recording locations, and taking photographs to prevent double counting and to record any identifying features for the adults and sub-adults as well as their habitat.

The group heard from the Wild Horses of Alberta Society WHOAS about their proposals for two population control pilots – an adoption program and a contraception program. The adoption program would target younger horses that would be trapped and cared for by WHOAS’. The program could manage a maximum of 20 horses at a time. The contraception program would, through expert oversight, administer contraception to fertile mares.

Committee members supported WHOAS’ adoption and contraception programs in principle, recognizing that the programs could only deal with limited numbers of horses at this time. The Committee’s support for the programs also recognized adoption and contraception would supplement (not replace) existing management options. Final details of technical and logistical consideration are still being worked out. Feral horse management remains the responsibility of the government.

FHAC Meeting Highlights – Mar 11, 2014

The department and committee members provided information about and reaction to the feral horse capture season. General comments included frustration about the misinformation out there, particularly through social media, and concern personal against government staff and committee members. The department is working to make more information available to the public about horse counts and other aspects of feral horse management.

Several guest speakers made presentations to the group. Dr. Judith Samson-French from the Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital provided information about how contraception could be used to manage feral horses. She proposed a contraception program start focusing on the female population to begin in late fall 2014, in Williams Creek. She indicated that the program would have to be monitored and evaluated to see if it is successful. The program would include 15-20 mares that were 3 years and older to start.

Dr. Claudia Klein from the University of Calgary shared information on the effectiveness of different types of contraception. She suggested that contraception through surgery on the horses is not practical, but non-surgical methods could be effective. The committee will continue to explore this option and other options.

Other topics discussed by the committee included the the committee membership, selecting a spokesperson for the group and the need for a long-term communication strategy.

FHAC Meeting Highlights – Dec 18, 2013

During the meeting, attendees discussed the Code of Conduct and reiterated expectations for each member organization. Several organizations made presentations to inform the committee about their work, goals and objective, including the Alberta Equestrian Federation, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Livestock Identification Services, RCMP Livestock investigators, feral horse capture permit holders, Spray Lakes Sawmills, Sundre Forest Products, Wild Horses of Alberta Society, the University of Alberta and Rangeland Research Institute, the Alberta Farm Animal Care Association, and the Alberta Wilderness Association.

In addition, the department provided information about ways to improve feral horse management in Alberta and share information about feral horse management from other jurisdictions. Members were then split into groups and asked to discuss and provide feedback on a variety of management options including hunting the horses for consumption, feral horse capture, birth control for the horses and controlled shooting of the horses. Future meetings will explore some of these topics in more depth in order for the group to make practical recommendations to the Minister about strategies for managing the horse population.

FHAC Meeting Highlights – Oct 04, 2013

Attendees included representatives from Alberta Fish and Game Association, Alberta Farm Animal Care Association, Alberta Professional Outfitters Association, Feral Horse Capture Permit Holders, University of Alberta – Rangeland Expert, Alberta Wilderness Association, Rocky Mountain Forest Range Association, Spray Lake Sawmills, the former Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Sundre Forest Products, Wild Horses of Alberta Society, Alberta Equestrian Foundation & Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada, Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.

At the meeting, attendees listened to a summary of feral horse research by Dr. Edward Bork, Professor and Rangeland Expert at the University of Alberta. In addition, members of the advisory committee were assigned to one of three break-off groups and asked to work collaboratively and develop responses to four questions related to a feral horse capture season and report back to the group. The members also discussed next steps.

FHAC Meeting Highlights – Sep 23, 2013

Attendees discussed the Feral Horse Advisory Committee Terms of Reference and Guiding Principles. Suggested changes and additions included:

  • Adding a representative from the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association to provide insight into animal health – specifically, equine infectious anemia;
  • Stipulating with the principles the importance of dealing with the issues as a group and within the parameters of the meetings;
  • Establishing a base for common understanding of terminology, such as capture, processing, slaughter, harvest, and management, among others.

The attendees agreed the Alberta’s Feral Horses: Managing Populations (April 2013) report accurately reflected the information they provided to SRI during consultations in 2012.

In addition, the department staff provided information to attendees to ensure a solid understanding of the history and events related to the issue of feral horses in Alberta. Key information included:

  • A discussion of the existing policy, regulations, and management of feral horses; and
  • Information about the growth of the feral horse population and why.

 

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Updated: Sep 3, 2015