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Provincial Society Concerned About Government’s Wild Horse Count


Alberta wild horses. Photo submitted

The Help Alberta Wildies Society (HAWS), a wild horse advocacy group based in Olds, Alberta, is concerned that the Alberta Government has published misleading data on the province’s wild horse population that could lead to unnecessary culling.

Alberta’s “Wildies” have roamed the foothills of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta for as far back as the 1700s. DNA studies conducted by the University of Calgary and corroborated by Texas A&M’s Juras Animal Genetics Laboratory found Alberta’s wild horses have a distinct DNA profile different than those of domestic horses which makes them unique and not found anywhere else in the world. Analysis of the horses’ DNA found they have genetic markers for the Canadian Horse, Indian Pony, mixed draft breeds, and a strong Spanish horse influence, particularly from Iberian and Andalusian breeds.

Alberta has six Equine Management Zones (EMZs) that encompass more than 2.2 million acres of land where more than 1,400 Alberta wild horses roam. The biggest threat to these wild horses is predation, with grizzly and black bears, wolves, and cougars being their primary predators, especially of the young or infirm. While unfortunate, predator losses do keep Alberta’s wild horse population naturally in balance and check.

However, recent government data suggest that the wild horse population in the Sundre EMZ has recently skyrocketed to a number perilously close to the threshold outlined in the government’s recently released “Feral Horse Framework Management Plan” that would trigger culling and/or a contraception program designed to reduce population levels below agreed-upon thresholds.

HAWS challenges the accuracy of this count, saying that the government flew an additional 500 kilometers over the Sundre EMZ in 2023 compared with the flight plan they followed in 2022, resulting in 969 horses counted, 51% more than their count of 642 in 2022. HAWS conducted their own count, following the same grid pattern in the Sundre EMZ as the government has traditionally flown, and found an increase of only 25 horses (4%) from 2022 to 2023.

In a meeting on September 28, 2023, between HAWS and Alberta’s Rangeland Office, which is responsible for the annual wild horse aerial counts, government officials agreed their 2023 wild horse count was inflated given the department flew an undisclosed 500 more kilometers in the Sundre EMZ than in 2022.

As a result of the meeting with HAWS, Rangeland Office officials acknowledged the wild horse population in the Sundre EMZ has remained static since 2018 and henceforth will advise HAWS in advance what flight paths will be flown each year so identical, independent, comparative wild horse population counts can be conducted in the Sundre EMZ. However, they have yet to amend their official statistical report that denotes there has been a 51% increase in the wild horse population in the Sundre EMZ.

“We’re not disputing the fact that the larger the area surveyed the more likely more wild horses will be found; however, in order for such important research to be valid and statistically sound, there needs to be an ‘apples to apples’ comparison,” says Darrell R. Glover, president of HAWS.

“That means you have to be consistent year-to-year in terms of what geographical areas are being measured. You can’t change the parameters mid-stream, then suddenly claim there has been massive growth, and base critical decisions on that,” he states.

Glover notes his group did make some headway in their meeting with FPT’s Rangeland Director. “They did acknowledge to us they flew more miles in the Sundre zone in 2023 and also agreed they will share their intended flight paths with HAWS in advance starting in 2024 so that HAWS can conduct a parallel count,” Glover explains.

“However, they refuse to amend their 2023 population count report that makes it appear there has been a massive increase in the wild horse population in the Sundre EMZ,” Glover says. “Not only are they misleading the public but by arbitrarily expanding their survey area to inflate the numbers, they’re purposefully setting themselves up to justify a future cull or contraception program to bring those numbers down. That’s just not right nor ethical, and the public needs to know.”

HAWS was founded in 2014 in response to the government’s plan to eradicate all wild horses in the foothills of the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. Since that time, the non-profit group, comprised of a team of dedicated volunteers and subject-matter experts, monitors and conducts research including via an extensive trail cam network in the Sundre Equine Zone and advocates for the well-being of the Wildies province-wide.

More information about HAWS can be found on its website, www.helpalbertawildiessociety.com, and also on its Facebook page (Help Alberta Wildies Society) where the group shares much of its research with close to a half-million group followers world-wide.

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