2014 annual feral horse counts are complete

April1,2014FeralHorseSamples (2) (Large)

This year’s minimum number count observed 880 feral equines in Alberta’s foothills, approximately 100 fewer than were seen last year. That 880 represents the number of horses physically seen, which means the actual number of animals will be higher.

The counts are done by flying over areas where herds are common with a rotary-wing aircraft (helicopter). Helicopters are used rather than fixed-wing because they are more manoeuvrable, which greatly enhances the counters’ ability to spot all the horses, especially those in a group. The flights were done over five days in March because of the large area involved, which is divided into equine zones; some zones took more than one flight to fully assess.  Each area flown is tracked by GPS and every herd is logged with a GPS waypoint. Media and members of the Feral Horse Advisory Committee took part in the flights.

April1,2014(1) (Large)While fewer horses were seen this year, significant population increases have been the trend over the past decade. Knowing the trends helps ESRD effectively manage the province’s rangeland to ensure the native grasses are healthy and available to all users. The numbers help us figure out future management options and provide important information for the advisory committee as it considers where to target management efforts, and how to measure the success of options that are undertaken.

You can comment on this post, and we’ll make sure your feedback is seen by the advisory committee. Or you can write to us using Alberta Connects. 

42 thoughts on “2014 annual feral horse counts are complete

  1. It’s good to see all the environmentalists, tree huggers, Calgary dog walkers, and feral horse lovers (non-native species) are finally, finally, finally proven wrong. The numbers of horses are huge, and this is with the cull this winter. Good on the government, and the ranchers, for rounding up horses this year. You have plenty more to round up in the following years. Keep this invasive feral horse species under lock, stock, and barrel. A win for Alberta’s natural wildlife will be when we get these herds under 500. They are eating up a lot of the grasses in the Ghost PLUZ and the big game are on the decrease. Not to mention all the damage that they do to countless numbers of wetlands.

    Only comment if you have actually been out to the Ghost PLUZ and seen first hand the damage caused by the feral horse, any other responses are just uneducated rhetoric.

    • I have been out to Ghost PLUZ and live near the Eastern Slopes! I am saddened by the continued ignorance of some. Proven wrong?? The count is way down from what the government used to justify the Cull. Loggers, cattle, oil and gas are far more evasive than Wild and Ferel horse’s. Interesting choice of words Justin “Big Game” are you a hunter by chance? As always human interference and the almighty dollar cause imbalance; Mother Nature always does her own cull

      • I don’t own a gun. But I spend about 35 days a year out in the GHOST PLUZ, I have hundreds of pictures with GPS locations of countless wetlands that are littered with feral horse dung, once nice wetlands that have been trampled with horse hooves, and have witnessed on numerous occasions 15 plus horses running through streams of crucial fish habitat, they have no predators because they stay in these large herds, nothing will touch them. For those who say they haven’t seen them, I invite you to come with me, I will show you herds of them in the GHOST PLUZ. LOL the numbers are way up, 250% in fact, since 2006. This is an epidemic, they graze there 24/7/365 (Cattle are controlled by which area they are permitted to graze in, and are not there in the winter when feed is scarce, yet the feral horse continues to feed 24/7)

        Maybe allow the big game hunters to take 1 horse along with their deer or moose, it would sure help mother nature on this invasive species.

        BTW there are no WILD horses in AB, only FERAL released horses. Destroying the landscape.

    • Starting out with name calling is always great Justin. I am very tired of bullies. Now first of all we need to stop calling these horses feral or invasive. Why? Because nobody has brought and proof or eve dance to the table to support this theory. However there is plenty of scientific evidence that supports the fact that if anything these are what is called re entroduced wildlife. If you want to know more about the origin on the horse feel free to look it up. The only reason there has been an upward trend over the past ten years is because of the horrid mis management and over culling of the horses. 880 is not a healthy population. You need to have genetic deversity and strong herds. The 200 something number they were down to years ago was catastrophic. Your ugulate numbers rage in the tens of thousands as well as cattle grazed on public land and you dare to imply that this tiny population of horses causes any issue. Justin cattle may be out half the year but they are given 50% of the grass. That’s 50% of the whole year of grass. That leaves only 50% for the rest of the animals for the whole year. Again mismanagement. Now I have not heard a word from and real rancher or farmer comaining about the horses. They is plenty of bitching about the elk however. I would never consider grazing my cattle on public lands as I think that land should be for wildlife only. You wanna talk damage? I can tell you what causes some of the worse damage I have ever seen and I bet your part of it. My family has lived in the a area with the horses for generations and I remember the land when I was a child and the horse herds were strong and numerous but the last few years a new invasive species have been declamating the area. Man. The last few years there has been a population explosion of campers on their atvs. Ripping up the land, driving through streams, leaving garbage everywhere and scaring off wildlife. When I was young we could be out there all week and not see a should now you go out in the summer and every 5 minutes you see a pack of them. One day we were out with our horses and this group of city people were on their quads driving in circles all day, shooting guns all evening and setting off fireworks all night. Why don’t we deal with that? And this no predator garbage. If there are no predators that’s another mismanament issue. Where predator populations are culled to artificially inflate prey populations. A few years back 3 horses were killed over a month or so by cougars. But wait people keep saying predators don’t exist? Must have been werewolves. Stop with the bullying and name calling to try and intimidate people into silence. I am sick and tired of this ‘if you are for the horses your misinformed, emotional, tree huger etc’ bullshit. I say it’s time for a public form. No closed door meetings. Let’s give people a chance to come forward and bring their own evidence, thoughts and ideas forward.

      • Way to go Jess, so nice to read something from someone who knows what they are talking about.

      • Justin’s comments are a breath of true fresh air. A man knows what he is talking about. I 100% back his comments.

  2. You contradict yourselves! How can you say “significant population increases have been the trend over the past decade” when you just said before this that 100 fewer horse have been seen!
    You want to make me believe that your overlooked 100 horses???
    Give the PZP a chance!

    • Thanks for your comment. Trends are general tendencies over time. Over the past decade, we have generally seen an increase in Alberta’s feral horse population for most years. As we note in the post, there are many reasons why this year’s count could be lower than other years – but our current count does not fit with the general trend. That doesn’t mean, however, that the trend we’ve measured previously doesn’t exist.

      • Hello Moderator,
        Please take a look at Jesse’s foul language, then get back to all of us to let us know if it still complies with your own policy.
        Thanks for the great job you do on here!

      • Hi Justin – thanks for mentioning this. This is a government blog, so yes – it’s important that everyone use appropriate language when commenting. Right now, the most problematic posts are actually the ones containing personal attacks and insults – a few have not been approved because of this. I do want to publish as many posts as possible, so I’ve been a little more lenient about the rules about appropriate language thus far, but posts containing personal attacks will never be published. Please keep your posts appropriate, folks.

  3. More and more lies. Tell me, will the people who receive permits to “cull” be on the Advisory Committee AGAIN. The Government of Alberta is pathetic in the eyes of the world. If we can’t be trusted with a few hundred horses, how are people to trust us with the tar sands. Embarrassed to be an Albertan.

  4. awesome now you know the numbers, so get out and shoot them up with horse deppo ( birth control)
    “PZP (pig zona pellucida) fertility control in wild horses has been used successfully for 21 years,” said Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, reproductive biologist and director of The Science and Conservation Center, ZooMontana, Billings, Montana.

    The horse slaughter industry is so wrong here in alberta, lack of proper testing for bute ect and just how the horses are killed is brutal and can be done in a better way. Horses are not cows and should not be treated as such.

    If you want to rant about damage to the environment go out to sibbald flats area, check out cross fire road oops home road, its from al the humans trashing a once prestine beautiful area.

    I like to shoot but I don’t trash the environment that I shoot in or create a safety hazard.

    I want to add that cattle are not indigious either so they should not be put onto crown land either. All is fair then no indigious species are on crown land period. Back home if you don’t have enough land to graze your cattle they starve or you buy hay and you reduce your herd size not go crying to mommy gov’t can I move my cows to graze on your land snivelling and sobbing.

    and also on your board you it is not balanced why are there people on the wild horse committee that get issues permits to capture wild horses? I smell conflict of interests and that not very democratic .

    Why not add people like Dr. French, for sure, Alberta Tourism, 4H, Independent Agrologist, Independent Rangeland experts, Genetics specialist, etc, in conjunction with your current board members of course 🙂

    Why not catch the colts and girlys and adopt them out great way to stop the population from growing in conjunction with birth control. The way to catch the them you could just shoot them with a trank gun them and get them that way, way less stress, and at that time have trained volunteers shoot the mares with the birth control easy.

    I also would like to add that I am not some tree hugging hippy, just a 5 generation Farmer in Western Canada, where there is over 100 years of common sense running through my veins.

    • I so absolutely agree with everything you said! This ignorant Gov`t caters to those with money, period. Why not create a park of sorts for the feral horses and protect them the same as any other species!

      • Because like you said Donna, they are FERAL. Should we create parks for other livestock like pigs, goats, sheep, chickens? Only if you are personally paying for it or raise the funds and purchase the land and manage it yourself.

  5. This is only proof of what you have attempted to justify all along. The cull was not needed and Mother Nature takes care of her own. There has been significant alternative methods for controlling population of Feral and Wild horse’s presented to the AERSD but I guess there would be no profit in that, would there? The variety of excuses and lies are abundant right down to the one about these horse’s not having predators. I would like to know what you re doing about the logging mess left behind? Perhaps the government should attempt to focus there time and our money on true environmental concerns. Please advise us all on the number of Hectares of land that these 800+ horses roam?? As for the missing 100 horses; are you suggesting they were hiding? All I see is another example of government abuse and justification. I would like to see alternatives to the Cull given a chance IF in fact there is an over population of horses. This year will see many foals not make it due to malnutrition, and we have yet to see what the Spring thaw claims. Perhaps a second count in September October or moving your count to a more feasible and accurate time to get a viable number to justify facts not your current trending practices.

    • Then you should rent a helicopter and do your own count, on your own dime. Albertans have already paid for one count, every year. Hey since you hate the Alberta government so much, why not leave? I’ll give you a ride. And take some feral horses with you.

    • LOL Shannon “Mother Nature takes care of her own” Than she would have never had released those initial feral horses in the first place to destroy the wetlands in the PLUZ. Obviously mother nature is not taking care of her own, so now the good working ranchers have to come in and clean up the damage. Numbers are drastically on the rise, as evidence by the counts, and on a personal note, I have seen a steady horrifying increase as well since the mid-2000’s. Something needs to be done, they are eating up the habitat of the natural wildlife. What would you do if a racoon was eating out of your dog dish and your dog was starving? Time for action.

  6. I struggle to understand how roughly 800 horses can be the culprit for “damage” in the Eastern Slopes. We have been hunting and fishing along the forestry trunk and west for years and have only seen wild horses a handful of times, cattle herds on the other hand are everywhere. Will the cattle grazing leases be managed as well? The damage THEY are doing is extensive. I could understand the concern being directed at the wild horses if the cattle were not part of the equation. I have owned both cattle and horses and cattle are unbelievable destructive in comparison. Are there studies that are published to show the long term effects of the cattle grazing?

    • Hi Tracy – thanks for your questions. It’s true that cattle grazing is very hard on the landscape. Because of this, the grazing of cattle on unleased crown land is very restricted – it’s only allowed at certain times of year, under certain conditions. If the land can’t support any grazing, then none is allowed. Obviously, we don’t have a similar ability to manage or restrict the grazing of feral horses. Because of that, the only way we can limit the amount that they graze is to manage the total number of horses.

      I’ll look into research on the rangeland impacts of cattle grazing for you.

    • Come with me, I will show your plenty of herds, EVERY TIME I GO OUT TO THE GHOST PLUZ. Bet you owned many more cattle than horses, hence the increase in the damage. No money in horses, only cattle.

      • How about all the damage humans cause they are the ones that should be kept out of the back country

  7. I have been a sponsor of a wild horse sanctuary in the USA for many years. Horses in the sanctuary are DNA tested and the herds are managed re population growth (some are gelded and set free), adequate food, etc. All are given some type of body markings for identification, so people know that these horses belong to the sanctuary. The horses run free, eat, breed, and establish herd groups as per their natural lives within the vast land of the sanctuary. We need to have sanctuaries here in Canada. Horses are a native species; evolved here many years ago and crossed into other continents via the land bridge. The wild horses are an asset to balancing our ecosystem; providing manure for regrowth of food; providing manure to anchor the soil, so that the wind does not blow away the soil, helping the smaller wildlife, such as the horses’ hooves being able to break some ice in winter so that birds, small animals, and deer can have access to water; at times, the deer or other animals will join a horse herd especially if attacked by wolves – horses form a circle to kick out with their hooves, while the young horses and young deer or birds stay in the centre of the circle for protection; many species are dependent on the horse for survival. The damaging thing that people have done to our wild horses today is that some horse farms have released their unwanted domestic horses to mix with the genuine wild ones. DNA testing is essential, especially if setting up a wild horse sanctuary. Laws need to be stricter re the people who release domestic horses; those people should be charged with animal cruelty or animal neglect, etc. Negative attitudes towards our native species need to be dealt with by education, awareness, laws, and setting up of some sanctuaries here in Canada. A side benefit would be increased tourism. from Nancy H.

    • It’s great that you are educated and understand fully that the Alberta Feral horse is not a native species, no horse is native to North America. This knowledge will save us all money on creating this sanctuary for nothing.

    • I agree that negative attitudes towards our native species need to be dealt with. Starting with educating people that horses were not an existing native species in Alberta prior to the arrival of European horses. The fact that we have polluted our wonderful natural landscape with these feral animals is a sign of great disrespect to Alberta’s natural flora and fauna.

      If it is animal cruelty or animal neglect to release a domestic animal into the wild, how can one also justify the continued presence of these feral animals? Aren’t they suffering?

  8. As usual bull poop don’t believe a word. Upset that you use Alberta equestrian federation when the total members had no vote. Les Oakes does not not speak for the membership. We need a vote.

    • Hi Elaine – the Alberta Equestrian Federation is listed as represented on the Feral Horse Advisory Committee because a representative from the Committee – Les Oakes, the President – sits on the committee, as you’ve noted. In an effort to make sure that the committee is as representative as possible, a wide variety of other groups also have representatives. It wouldn’t be workable or fair to leave these decisions up to a vote by one particular group or organization.

      • This Committee isn’t as representative as possible. It is 99% pro-slaughter. That fact has been pointed out to ESRD thousands of times since January, 2014, when you finally decided to inform the general public of the cull. ESRD shows itself to have zero credibility when it makes statements like this. The Committee should at least be a 50/50 split, and Permit Holders should be removed entirely. Nowhere else do you have a vote going to someone who benefits financially from voting for themselves!

  9. Happy to see that the population has stopped growing for at least one year. If true, this represents a real opportunity for the province to bring this introduced, non-native species back under control to a more reasonable number over the next few years. If numbers could be kept lower (<500), the risk of rapid population growth of this invasive feral species could be more easily avoided in the future through either the proven roundup approach or horse birth control if actually viable and affordable.

    • Haven’t checked this site out for a few months, been busy crusading for our wild horses. That’s right, WILD, not feral!! Some new developments, Greg Gartner, you posted R. Alison’s paper on Feb 2/14 (I think that’s the date) on this site and then shortly after, Steve Howlett, owner of Shandar, the wildie that was DNA tested and found to have Spanish markers, proving Heritage Status, was found. What you haven’t done is admit we, the wild horse supporters, are right. The wildies do have Spanish influence. Here’s more, several of the wildies have been DNA tested and have been found to have distinct DNA. That means they are genetically different from domesticated horses. BANG goes the infamous war cry of the wild horse haters, and their feral tag! Not possible to have distinct DNA from domesticated horses and still be breeding from released domesticated stock. I only posted this because you wild horse haters seem to think those things matter. None of those things matter to me. Those wild horses have been on this land (meaning North America) for centuries, are a native species, and as such, deserve protection. The old theory of horses dying out 10,000 years ago, has been tossed out the window as more and more evidence comes to light of equine fossils being found, proving equines survived beyond the ice age. Of course, there still remains the fact that equine fossils have been found in Canada, carbon dated to 2900 yrs. ago, also proving horses were here before Columbus left his Spanish horses in North America. I wonder how long ESRD, and the other horse haters are going to continue to try and ignore science and wail on with their war cry of “FERAL”. Facts are facts. Deal with it. I certainly hope that we don’t have a repeat of the horrendously cruel and inhumane capture of our wild horses again in 2015. We horse petters, tree huggers, condo-living, vegan brains haven’t gone away, just in case you were wondering. Let’s hope that ESRD finally starts to listen to the ONE SINGLE VOICE on their Horse Advisory Committee that actually speaks for the wild horses, and adopts the contraception program, entirely paid for by the anti-cull people, and give it the trial that it deserves. For those interested, Steve Howlett is on Facebook (Steve Howlett (Shandar Acres). He was posting his story on another’s site, but suddenly disappeared and didn’t finish the story. I found it very interesting and printed everything off, including the testing done. But again, let me say, I don’t care if the wild horses have Spanish influence or not. They are a native species to North America and belong on public lands.

      • Sorry for the late reply V, I somehow didn’t receive the notification. As was pointed out to you last go-round, Spanish markers in the DNA can come from quarter horse ancestry as well, it proves nothing. Well, I guess it proves for certain that the horse had some European horse ancestors somewhere, so it is definitely NOT a native horse. Maybe it has some genetics linked to early European introductions, but that is not proof it is truly native to North America.

        Point me to the academic publications showing horses present in the five thousand or so years prior to Columbus. As you know, the Blackfoot of Southern Alberta had no oral history of horses prior to the mid to late 1800s, they had no word for horse, and it was clearly not a part of Alberta’s native fauna.

        I’m glad you acknowledge that the issue should be controlling the feral horse population, via whatever method. I support you paying for a contraceptive program out of your own pocket as well, but I think if you really cared about the animals you would support a full roundup and adoption program instead. Clearly the horses are suffering and dying from predation and harsh winters. Dying of exposure or starvation would be an animal cruelty charge, if suffered at the hands of humans. Why do you wish them to continue to live (and die) in this manner? Horses are not meant to be wild animals in Alberta, and our province has no unfilled environmental niches for them.

    • Caleb: You have no “Reply” at the bottom of your most recent post, so had to reply here. Please read:


      Also, I don’t know why you would think that there have to be records of wild horses in just Alberta. Horses are native to North America. Those borders are/were invisible and non-existent when horses evolved here.

      The winters are indeed harsh, especially this last one, but again, they have survived here for hundreds of years and that adds up to lots of cold winters. I saw quite a few of the F&G people out feeding the deer this winter, as it was hard on all wildlife, and I personally, have no problem feeding the wild horses in a harsh winter. Lots of people don’t agree with that, but that’s alright with me.

  10. V Fisher, Thanyou for saying everything I wanted to say. I would also like to add, when I was a young girl I remember my parents and Uncles catching wild horses and training them for logging, farming, pack animals, and saddle horses not turning out domestic animals which is just the opposite of what some people want to believe. Our family also could not afford to turn the trained horses out, if we didn’t need them they would be sold to people who did. I myself had a real wild horse that was trained for rodeo events and she was awesome.

    • Correction, it was a FERAL HORSE, not wild, none have ever existed in Alberta. Kids will believe anything you tell them, unfortunately.

  11. A number of comments have been made over the past week that have not been approved because they’ve include personal insults and inappropriate language. Just a reminder to please keep things civil if you’d like your comments to be published.

  12. Hopefully the hard working ranchers in Alberta round up 200 in 2015 as the herds of feral horses have decimated the pristine beauty of many parts of the PLUZ. My hats off to the true cowboys of Alberta for cleaning up the mess of a generation who didn’t know the damage their poor decisions would cause, same as the ones who think it’s a good idea to release Prussian Carp into Alberta’s waterways. It’s never too late to eradicate the feral horse problem we have in this province. At least with the horse problem, we can shoot them easily from the helicopters during the 2015 count. We cannot do this with the Prussian Carp. Give your head a shake if you believe in Eco-Terrorism, like many of the writers on this blog before me.

    • Hi Leonard – thanks for commenting. Please refrain from making personal attacks and insults in your comments.

      Incidentally, I just wanted to clarify that this is a Government of Alberta blog. The comments you are responding to have been left by other readers.


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