Managing Alberta’s feral horse population: the rules and regulations of a capture season

**Thanks to everyone for your comments. As it can be a lot of work to moderate this blog, sometimes we need to close comments after a certain period of time. Comments on this post have now closed. If you want to provide additional comments, you can do so using Alberta Connects. 

Yesterday, we talked about the history of Alberta’s non-native feral horse population, and why we need to manage their impact on the landscape. You can read the whole post here – but if you just want a quick recap, it’s pretty simple:

scarce food + too few predators = trouble.

Feral horses aren’t native, so they compete with existing species for food, and they don’t have many natural predators – so their population can grow extremely quickly.

The feral horse equation: scarce food + few predators = rapid population growth - and trouble.

Feral horses might look at home on the landscape – but because they’re not native species, they put pressure on the ecosystem. Photo credit:  Francois Marchal .

Feral horses can share the landscape with other species just fine – as long as their numbers don’t get too big. Because there aren’t many natural checks on their growth, we need to intervene and keep the population small enough to be sustainable. And one of the most effective ways to do that is also the simplest: remove some horses from the population.

What is a capture?

A capture is what it sounds like. To reduce the feral horse population by a certain amount, we issue licences for participants to corral some of these horses and either keep them or sell them to other people.

Although a horse capture might seem like a throwback to a bygone ‘Wild West’ era, there’s quite a bit more paperwork involved. Licences, screenings, and many restrictions are used to protect the health and safety of the animals. Here’s the lowdown:

 Licences and Screenings

  • A licence is required to capture horses. To get a licence, applicants must prove they can humanely capture and transport the horses.
  • Applicants are screened to make sure they have experience with handling and transporting animals, and proper facilities for them.
  • If an applicant has any history of animal welfare issues, the permit is automatically denied.

Restrictions on Capture

  • Capture must be done humanely – this means no snares, guns or other weapons, or anything else that could hurt the horses.
  • Typically, baited corrals are used. Food or other bait lures horses into the corral, and the gate shuts once the animals are inside.
  • Licence holders must check their corrals and make sure there is enough food and water on a regular basis.
  • It is illegal to shoot captured horses, and their welfare during capture and transport is protected by the Stray Animals Act.

Each year, we count the number of feral horses in Alberta. Based on how fast the population is growing, we decide whether or not to issue capture licences. We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about how we made that decision this year – stay tuned.

40 thoughts on “Managing Alberta’s feral horse population: the rules and regulations of a capture season

  1. Shame on the Provincial Gov`t for approving this cull of wild horses! And, the lame excuse of sharing food and too few predators with other species. Cattle are not indiginous to Alberta either! You are simply listening to the whining of farmers and ranchers who would rather kill wild horses and wolves instead of leaning to live with them! Shame, Shame!

    • Hi Donna – thank you for your comment. You make a good point: cattle are not indigenous to Alberta. Because of this, we have strict regulations about the number of cattle that can graze on the land and when they can graze (as the previous blog post notes, cattle are only allowed to graze in the summer, after grasses have reached maturity).

      Unfortunately, we can’t restrict where and when feral horses graze. The population grows very quickly because feral horses have few natural predators – our research shows that cougars and wolves just don’t really hunt them that much (when they do, it’s often old and sick horses, which doesn’t lower the reproduction rate). The feral horse population can very quickly grow too big for the land to support. This can lead to permanent damage of the grasslands.

      The capture is not an ideal management strategy, and we don’t make the decision to allow a capture season lightly. But because previous generations released these horses into the wild, we have to manage the impact they have on our native ecosystems. We’re looking for other ways to do this – we’ll have a post up about that later today. If you have ideas for how we can manage the population better, I encourage you to write to our Minister and let him know – you can find his contact info by following the link: http://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=mla_contact&rnumber=85&leg=28

      – Jackie

  2. Are these captured horses allowed to be sold to the slaughter houses? Which from what I’ve read are absolutely horrific for these beautiful creaturse. We owe them much more respect than that.

    • Hi Marcia,

      Thank you for your question. Yes – although many of the captured horses are kept for work or riding, some have been sold to slaughterhouses in previous years. That’s not our preference: we are currently examining options for an adoption program that would allow as many horses as possible to find homes.

  3. Thanks for a well-balanced, scientific post about the horse capture program. This seems like a reasonable approach to a tricky management situation. I’m happy to hear the ESRD isn’t letting this potential problem go unchecked.

  4. I disagree with what the government has decided. Due to the harsh winter we have had this year there and babies who have tragically not made it though the winter. Also those who lag behind are often prey for larger cats and wolves. Who keeps track of these horses as well? What it is from letting someone capture these horses and selling them to meat industry? Leave them alone.

  5. Thank you for sending this link on to me. While you cannot restrict when and where wild horses graze, summer grazing by cattle can be just as destructive. Overgrazing by cattle during draughts will kill off grasses just as quickly early season grazing. As for too few predators, I think you need look no further than the cattlemen who not so many years ago complained of them.
    As a professional horseperson with over 30 years experience, saying the population grows too quickly I’m not too sure of. Even under the best of care having a foal survive from conception to maturity can be difficult.

  6. I am not sure where you originated from ..but definetly not from a farm…but on one of your planned trips..go to a farm yard that has horses on it..and cows..look at at what pasture is damaged to just the soil left..The foot hills have had horses there for hundreds of years, by the thousands,shouldnt it be a waste lands by now if it was the horses?? I rode that country years ago..millions of acres of trees as far a you could see..now miles of grass lands with cattle for as far as you can see..clear cut logging created this..and now ranchers looking for the cheap hand outs of grass for pennies want the horses gone cause they are eating the COWS grass..

  7. They are WILD horses theh were here before you!!! Leave them alone wooptie doo thereslots thafs good people come to alberta to see them they are a attraction! Therws thousands of deer how about do something else abiut thaf?!!

  8. stop the selling of wild horses to be slaughtered watch the auction market for the meat buyers

  9. People want to see the wild horses –they don’t want to see cows in wild spaces! It is time to designate these last wild herds as Heritage animals, protect and “manage” the herds humanely and with the expert opinion of those people who know them–all the wild horse advocates that have been following and documenting these animals for years! NOT the government, NOT the ranchers, NOT the oil companies, NOT the forestry!! These horses are worth so much more to Canada and the world as wildlife–they will attract visitors worldwide. Inevitably the numbers may grow if they are protected, so some intervention may be necessary but the way it is done now is totally WRONG!!
    There needs to be a law against selling any captured animals for slaughter.

    • Totally agree with you, and, cattle and sheep are also not indiginous to Alberta either! Sometime there is too much blind support for farmers and ranchers by the Prov. Gov`t!

  10. I would like to know why ESRD repeatedly denied capture permits were issued to the numerous inquiries put to them in the weeks preceding the announcement? I, myself, called to inquire and was informed, “no capture permits issued”. Mr. Bradley and the other 2 permit holders, had that information weeks before the rest of the population, as a road was plowed out to his capture area. Please explain why the general population was deliberately deceived about this.

    Mr. Jason Bradley is a member of the Steering Committee and as such, to be provided with prior information about the issuance of his Capture Permit so that he could prepare his site in advance, but withhold that same information from other members of the Steering Committee, and members of the general public, is duplicitous. This is also a conflict of interest as Mr. Bradley will earn money off this Capture Permit. Inside information is only given to the select few it seems, and even though the general public repeatedly made requests for this information, they were deliberately kept in the dark. What action is being taken against ESRD for duplicitous conduct and conflict of interest, and if no action is being taken, why not?

    Also, another individual, in conversation with both Mr. Rob Kesseler and Mr. Don Livingston, was informed by Rob Kesseler that a “vet” was concerned about Swamp Fever, and this was one of the deciding factors in issuing 2014 Capture Permits. This is a reportable disease and all horses in an infected area are to be quarantined and tested. As there are no reported cases in this area, why did Mr. Kesseler inform someone that this was one of the main reasons for issuing Permits? What is the name of the “vet” who informed Rob Kesseler of this information, and why didn’t this “vet” immediately quarantine all horses, both domestic and wild? If there is Swamp Fever infecting any of those horses, and this “vet” has failed to report and comply with standard quarantine procedures, he should immediately be reported. Has ESRD reported this “vet”, and if not, why not? Will ESRD inform any and all horse auction houses, and all slaughter plants in Canada of the “possibility” of these horses being infected with Swamp Fever and ensure their tainted meat does not enter anyone’s food chain? If not, why not?

    In conversation with Mr. Don Livingston, this individual was told that the forage is considered 50% for cattle and 50% for wildlife. No percentage for horses. When the individual stated, “this falls back to a cattle issue”, Don Livingston, confirmed with, “yes, it does”. Why would one ESRD employee state the reason for 2014 issuing of Capture Permits was due to the “possibility” of Swamp Fever, and another ESRD employee, state the reason for the issuing of 2014 Capture Permits, was ESRD’s position of 0% grass for the wild horses?

    As Mr. Livingston has stated ESRD’s position is no percentage of grass for wild horses, does this mean ESRD intends to cull 100% of all Alberta’s wild horses? Please inform me when ESRD made the decision to cull 100% of Alberta’s wild horses, or has this always been ESRD’s position?

    Also, please answer as to why ESRD allows for a reintroduction of certain species that have completely disappeared in some areas, but vehemently refuses to allow a reintroduction of wild horses? Surely, ESRD has participated in restocking trout streams, reintroducing bison, elk, etc.? Horses are indigenous to North America, and there is abundant scientific evidence of this fact. Is this not also an extreme and blatant bias?

    I look forward to your response.

    V. Fisher

    • Thank you for your questions, V. I’ve tried to answer them in order.

      Government made the decision to go ahead with a capture season for feral horses last Tuesday and announced the decision to the public the same day. Until the decision was made no capture licences were issued.

      Last fall, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development established a Feral Horse Advisory Committee with representation from 15 stakeholder groups. The committee overwhelming recommended a capture season for this year to manage feral horse numbers. More information about the committee can be found here: http://esrd.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-management/feral-horses/feral-horse-advisory-committee.aspx.

      Some of your questions relate to a particular member of the Feral Horse Advisory Committee. This committee is made of are numerous groups representing many different points of view about feral horses, including grazing and timber interests, animal welfare organizations, the Alberta Wilderness Association, Wild Horses of Alberta Society, the RCMP and brand inspectors, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and the University of Alberta. The group also includes a previous licence holder. Having a wide cross-section of viewpoints on the committee is important. All members of the committee were encouraged to participate in making the recommendation to government for a capture season. Some committee members shared the information and took action on the recommendation in various ways before a final decision was made by the Ministry.

      Unfortunately, I cannot speak to a conversation that I was not involved with, but I can tell you the key reason that government chose to allow a capture season in 2014 is to manage numbers and ensure sustainable grazing in areas that are most impacted by feral horses. During the committee meetings, the representative from Alberta Veterinary Medical Association alerted the committee of the possibility of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). With that information in mind, as many captured horses as possible will be tested for the disease. If EIA is found in the free-roaming horse population, ESRD will work with the Provincial Veterinarian’s Office and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on an appropriate response. However, this disease is not the reason for the capture.

      The maximum number of horses that can be removed from the population this season is 196 or 20% of the minimum estimated feral horse population 980 animals. Research has indicated that the typical annual rate of replacement for feral horses is 20-30 per cent of the total population. In order to hold a population at its current level, 20 to 30 per cent of the population can be removed. ESRD has chosen the conservative figure of 20 per cent for this year. It is not our intention to remove Alberta’s feral horse population – it is, however, necessary that we manage it, for the reasons I have already stated.

      • I am almost at a loss for words! First of all, to issue allow a capture season of 196 horses based on an old (last year – 2013) count is crazy. As you know, this has been an early, harsh winter, with many fatalities in the wild horse population. You have been sent numerous letters and information stating that the wild horse count in the Williams area is 68 horses. Are you simply going to ignore that?

        Also, as I have previously posted, the Committee’s are top heavy in pro-slaughter people, or people who have a vested interest in killing off the wild horse population. Of course they are going to vote overwhelmingly to go ahead with a capture season.

        As to your very carefully worded sentence….”the Government made a decision to go ahead with a capture season last Tuesday….”. That is not what I asked you. I asked you why select people were given the information of a capture year PRIOR to the general public. If you are advising 2 or 3 people so that they may prepared IN ADVANCE, you must treat everyone the same way.

        Now, I would like to know the name of the vet from the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association who alerted ESRD to the possibility of EIA. There is absolutely no proof ANYWHERE that there is an outbreak of EIA in that part of the Province, and to my knowledge, there never has been! It has been noted however, that AVMA will put the blame on the wild horses, despite this disease being spread mostly by domestic horses, and AVMA have been crying this same story for decades. I will attach a newspaper article from 1983, which states the exact same thing as what has just been said. There is NO PROOF that wild horses have EIA. If I pointed to a big cattle ranch and said “there is the possibility that those cattle have Mad Cow Disease” and I kept repeating it year after year after year, without any proof, I would be sued, or shot by the rancher. When you have proof to make such statements, make them. Until then you’re just fear mongering and casting the wild horses in a very negative light. Stop it.

        Now, onto your numbers of foals born and surviving each year. You estimate (based on what?) that 20 – 30%, or 190+ foals are born each and every year, and that none of them die, none of the older horses die, no horses are taken down by predators, and that each and every year the wild horse herds increase by 190+ horses each year. That is ridiculous. I wanted to use another word, but I’ll stick with that one for now.

        Those horses are wild horses, not feral, and you have no right to kill them off year, after year.

        Now, take a look at this newspaper article. You could place it in here and no one would know it was written 31 years ago. Same old blah, blah, blah.

        http://www.wildhorsesofalberta.com/

  11. You state that capture must be done humanely and that the horses’ welfare during capture and transport is protected by the Stray Animals Act. What kind of oversight is in place to ensure compliance?

    On page 5 of the ESRD Alberta’s Feral Horses Managing Populations Consultation Report, it is stated that various research studies have been conducted between 1975 and 2012 which indicate that the horses are a significant resource management issue. Are any of these studies available online, and if so could you provide the link to these? On page 14 under the Specific Solutions heading, I note that “Examine the potential of interrupting the reproductive cycle or sterilization of studs” is included. Has this been seriously considered? PZP is a contraceptive vaccine which is injected into the muscle and can be done by a disposable dart for remote delivery. Since population control seems to be the desired goal, it seems to me that this method would be the most acceptable solution.
    For anyone wishing to read the consultant’s report, it is availabe online.http://esrd.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-management/feral-horses/documents/AltaFeralHorses-ManagingPopulations-Apr26-2013.pdf

      • Hi there – I apologize for the delay. We’ve received a large volume of comments on this issue, and yours got lost in the shuffle.

        I’ve tried to answer your questions in order:

        Compliance: To get a capture licence, applicants are thoroughly screened by both ESRD and the RCMP for any history of animal welfare concerns, and to make sure they have the equipment and experience to transport the animals safely. RCMP officers regularly patrol capture areas during the season, making sure corrals are stocked with food and water. All captured horses that are tested for disease are tested by an independent vet to ensure that health and safety standards are met during that process.

        References: The references cited by the committee are available at the end of our feral horse FAQ document: http://esrd.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-management/feral-horses/feral-horse-faqs.aspx. Unfortunately, we cannot provide third-party academic studies online, as they are typically protected by copyright restrictions. However, I’m sure that a librarian at the Government of Alberta or University of Alberta library would be able to help you locate them.

        Contraception: The committee did consider using experimental contraception methods as part of this year’s management strategy. Ultimately, owing to the experimental nature of the technology, the potential high cost, and the tight timeline we were working with this year, the committee decided against it. They will revisit it as an option the next time management of the population is required.

    • Hi again – I’ll try to answer your questions in order.

      Ensuring compliance: To get a capture licence, applicants are screened by both ESRD and the RCMP for experience, facilities, and any history of animal welfare concerns, and to make sure they have the right facilities and know-how. The captured horses and capture sites are monitored by ESRD, Livestock Identification Services (Brand Inspectors) and the livestock division of the RCMP. The RCMP also do regular patrols of the capture sites. This is to ensure that captured horses are treated as humanely as possible.

      Research data: The studies used in the report are, unfortunately, not available online (this is a real problem with academic materials – most of them are online in databases of academic journals, and we do not have permissions to post them on our website). There’s a list of the studies consulted at the bottom of our FAQ page – I’m sure if you contacted the Government of Alberta and/or University of Alberta libraries, they’d be able to help you track them down. The list is at the bottom of this page (under the ‘More Information’ tab): http://esrd.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-management/feral-horses/feral-horse-faqs.aspx.

      Contraception was not considered for 2013/2014, but it may be considered by the feral horse advisory committee for the next season, assuming there is a need to manage the population at that time.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions.

  12. In response to those who feel that wild horses are endangered, I am seeing feral horses in places that they weren’t 20 years ago, and in larger herds. While I can’t speak for other regions, they are definitely not endangered in Kananaskis. I am glad to see some, but they need to be managed like other species or they will eat themselves (and the elk and deer) out of existence. Many people talk about the “balance of nature” but fail to realize that this balance is maintained by death, be it starvation or predatation. My great uncle rounded up “wildies” in the 1930’s, and there have been round-ups before and since. I am glad to see a provincial program that addresses the issue in a humane manner that is neither naively sentimental, nor draconian.

    • Thank you for bringing up the Sheffeild horses. While some of the young horses were adopted many were sent to slaughter. Even as late as last month I had notices of these adopted horses being abandoned and/or showing up in rescues. I have also seen many farmers in this area complaining of the damage done by elk.

  13. Definitely a hot button issue and I am glad to see that SRD is attempting to address some of the questions. On the surface I am repulsed at the idea of these beautiful animals going to slaughter, but I also realize that because of the way humans have to date impacted the ecosystem we need to come up with a workable solution to this problem. It is difficult to assess the situation clearly without clear data, so it would be useful to know the ratio of captured vs slaughter bound animals as well as how the changing landscape has increased or decreased the available grazing and how the livestock numbers have changed because of that.

    Supplying the links to available research and historical surveys will enable those of us following this issue to participate and have actual rather than anecdotal information to base our opinions on. Looking forward to working towards an achievable solution to this management issue.

    • Hi JB – thanks for your comment. I agree, making data more easily available would be good for this conversation – unfortunately, it’s not always the most easily accessible material to find online. I will see if we can run a follow-up post with some additional resources.

      Cheers,
      Jackie

      • Hi again – I’ve checked into this and unfortunately, the researched used by the advisory committee is not readily available online; that’s the downside of academic publications (they are often housed in databases, behind paywalls). There is a list of studies and researched used to inform our management strategy at the end of this page (under the ‘more info’ tab) – http://esrd.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-management/feral-horses/feral-horse-faqs.aspx. I’m sure the Government of Alberta and/or the University of Alberta libraries would be happy to help you track them down.

        As far as the data we’ve collected on Alberta in particular – we’re hoping to post the relevant info we have available on the website soon. I’ll let you know when that’s been done. We’re hoping to get our grazing and rangeland health data up as well, but that may take longer. We would like the data to be accessible for the average Albertan, so in some cases, we have to translate it into formats that will accomplish that.

  14. We are seeing the exact reasoning that the so called feral horses of Suffield was zeroed out..enviromental damage…but in the next year, hundreds of transferred elk were released in to that same district..there are lots of documented pictures of the same water holes that were used by the horses for years, totally destroyed by the elk..The one bigger outstanding point is Elk created a big bucks hunting zone..check out what an elk hunt in the Suffield base area costs…history is now changed forever in that area for wild horses..also soon to be the same in the rest of Alberta..extinct..by greed..It was mentioned in a earlier writing of the ESRD , that the horses have no preditors..That is because in the last few years the wolves and cougars have been trapped out to also near extinction…WHY?? Because they are a legal fur bearing animal..Legal to trap and done so that nobody was aware of it happening..And That Was…Because they were killing cattle..WHY?? Because the wolves and cougars natural food chain is mostly wiped out…And they found out that cows were much easier to kill..The ESRD has all the packaged answers for the annilation of our wild horse’s ..All answers built for them by the professional advisors who want the horses gone..Not by the people of Alberta..90% of Albertans aren’t even aware there is such an animal..Within the next couple of years Albertans will only be seeing pictures of what we used to have..These horses do have some TAME horse blood in them, I won’t denie that..but they are not someone’s turned loose horses..Antony Henday wrote of the thousands of wild horses with the buffalo on the plains..And he is not the only one who wrote of wild horses..And that was a long time before Western Canada was even part of Canada’s maps…Who turned them horses loose?? They weren’t lost horses of the Spanish either..Horses could not have reproduced that fast in only 150 years..even if it was a 100% reproduction survival rate…

  15. “Contraception was not considered for 2013/2014, but it may be considered by the feral horse advisory committee for the next season, assuming there is a need to manage the population at that time”

    • I would like to know WHY contraception has not been considered. There are wild horse ranges in the USA that are being effectively managed through the use of contraceptives. It is humane, and it is the right thing to do. I also believe that the wild horses need to be celebrated, and promoted, and a plan put into place to have these family bands enjoyed through eco-tourism. Churchill Manitoba is a perfect example of economic benefit resulting in the promotion of what was once considered a ‘nuisance animal’. Thousands of people spend huge dollars to see and photograph the polar bear. And Churchill has gone one step further, with nature-seekers now shelling out thousands of dollars to wear a wetsuit and swim alongside the beluga whales that enter the Churchill River each August. The wild horses of Alberta are not generating revenue, which is exactly why they have no voice. Re-position these magnificent animals, promote hiking/photography workshops in wild horse country and celebrate the fact that you have something extremely unique in Canada! This is such a missed opportunity! The shift is changing. The capture of wild horses is an age-old technique that no longer reflects current views towards co-existing with nature. Do we not have the ability to consider compassionate alternatives? Of course we do. Unfortunately the stakeholders here still believe in the heavy hand of man. This round-up is shameful, considering that there are viable alternatives which have NOT EVEN BEEN CONSIDERED. Your issued statement, ‘Contraception was not considered for 2013/2014’. I would like to know why. I await your answer.

      • Hi Sandy – I apologize; I think that was a poor choice of words. While the advisory committee did discuss experimental methods of contraception, it ultimately decided not to pursue this tool for this season. A variety of factors contributed to that decision. These include the fact that the technology is still pretty experimental (although it has worked well in some jurisdictions, the results have been more mixed in others), and the costs for taxpayers (which could be considerable). In addition, the sterilization of any wild population is not done under controlled conditions, and that makes it harder to control the results. A campaign that is *too* successful could potentially risk permanently damaging the population’s capacity for reproduction and even lead to the eventual elimination of the population, which neither the government nor Albertans want to see.

        That being said, we do recognize that this is an alternative option, and we will be exploring it again next year in the event that some kind of management is required at that time.

  16. I would like to know if AESRD has any scientific experts with experience in the very specialized field of fertility-based wild horse population control on the Advisory Committee? If not, on whose advice did you decide “not to pursue this tool for this season”?

    • Hi there – a representative of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association educated about equine health sat on the committee this year. That person would have had a good understanding of equine population control. We’ve also received submissions from other veterinarians with more expertise in that field, and we will take those under consideration when we need to manage the population again.

  17. I would also like to add that stating in your reply to Sandie that a contraceptive campaign could be “too” successful and “could potentially risk permanently damaging the population’s capacity for reproduction and even lead to the eventual elimination of the population” is somewhat disingenuous on the part of AESRD. There is a substantial body of scientific literature to suggest that the pros of fertility-based population control far outweigh the cons and that there is very little likelihood of eliminating a population if a vaccine such as PZP is used judiciously and solely to the extent necessary to maintain healthy population levels. It has been shown in study after study that the carefully targeted use of PZP reduces the need for expensive, random, and traumatic roundups and captures, which almost invariably leas to the slaughterhouse for the adults and even many of the foals. While AESRD has been quick to come up with a list of cons for a contraceptive campaign, I would like to see AESRD be equally frank about the cons of a random roundup and capture campaign.

    • Hi – to clarify, I didn’t mean to give the impression that a permanent decline in the population would definitely happen if we were to use contraception, or that that was the main reason why the committee decided against it. It was a relatively minor concern compared to the other reasons I’ve stated, but in the interest of completeness, I did want to include it.

  18. I have a few questions…. Permits were voted to be issued on numbers taken last year….this year head counts are at 68 horses in the area due to the harsh weather and deep snow this year. Why are not counts taken in November to get true numbers? Why was a person who has inside information ie on the committee already prior to the announcement preparing for a capture? Why are these same people who have invested interests in the area….ie allowed to feed their cattle on crown land for profit allowed to decide the fate of free roaming horses and profit from this as well….why if swamp fever is reported by this ministry in the area the reason for the cull ( no proof given just suspected) are not all horses in the area under government enforced quarantine including all ranch horses until tested? Horses suspected of swamp fever cannot be knowingly allowed to enter into the food chain would this not be in direct violation to the Health and Food Safety Act and be subject to charges and fines under that Act. Is not the Ministry responsible for also knowingly allowing permits to be issued in area not subject to these same fines and charges for allowing the capture of supposedly sick animals to enter into the food chain via slaughter? The ministry can’t have it both ways either quarantine All and test and hold back on the cull or admit that this is not the reason for the cull and the Ministry issued a false statement in regards to the reason for issuing permits in the area. In the best interest of the Free Roaming Horses of Alberta, i find it distasteful that members on a committee deciding their fate are predominately the only ones being issued permits to trap them. I find this evidence of corruption within the ministry and committee. Would it not be best to have an impartial committee that has no monetary ties to the areas at all be the ones to decide the management of these animals through educated experts and veterinary society instead of the ranchers that are thinking only of their cattle and the bottom line? Please it would be nice for you to clarify and answer to the people of Alberta your decision to eradicate The Free Roaming Horses of Alberta instead of preserving this provincial treasure.

    • Hi Wendy,

      I’ve tried to answer your questions in order:

      When conditions are cold, horses (like other animals) tend to take cover under trees and in other places that make them hard to spot. For this reason, ESRD conducts its annual count in the early spring, when horses are more likely to be out in the open and the count is more likely to be accurate.

      The feral horse advisory committee is made up of a cross-section of all Albertans who are impacted by the feral horse management issue. This includes specialists such as a veterinarian and a rangeland expert, and it includes members of groups who advocate for the feral horse population. It also includes people who share the landscape with feral horses, including ranchers and farmers. These people are also impacted by this management issue and also deserve a say.

      We have strict rules about who is issued a horse capture permit. These rules ensure that the people who are undertaking the capture have the right animal handling experience, equipment, and know-how to ensure the health and safety of the horses is protected during the capture. While anyone meeting this description is welcome to apply for a permit, those who do are primarily people who work with animals professionally – like ranchers.

      All captured horses are tested for equine infectious anemia (EIA) by an independent vet, and the results are sent to a private lab. There is a six-month period before captured horses can be sold to anyone, including processing plants. A horse testing positive for EIA would not be eligible for sale.

      As I have said in comments before, testing for this disease is not the reason for the cull – a rapidly growing population is. We are, however, using this opportunity to test for the disease, and the results may impact how we decide to manage the population in the future.

  19. In an effort to simplify information, we posted incorrect information in the comments with regards to CFIA legislation. A licence holder can sell animals capture at any time, however, no horse can go for processing until there are 6 months (180 days) of vet records for the animal. We apologize for any inconvenience that this over simplification may have caused and appreciate those that took the time to point out this error to us.

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