Saturday, 21 February 2015

Wild Horse Rally

     I went to the Alberta Legislature yesterday to support the wild horses of Alberta. There was a rally scheduled for Edmonton and for Calgary due to start at 1:00. There was one woman who arrived early and by a little after 1:00 there were about a dozen supporters. Two or three went up to the microphone and said their piece in support of leaving the wildies alone where they are. Several media types braved the chilly wind while interviewing some of the participants and everything wound up by a little after 2:00.
A Few Faithful Defenders of the Alberta Wild Horses
     The main arguments for the horses are: They are a heritage animal with some 150 years of history of hard work and doing their part in the settlement of Alberta. The native people of Alberta would have used horses for at least another 100 years before that for hunting, trading and travel. Once the railroad began to convert from steam and coal to diesel powered engines, many of the coal mines along the eastern slopes closed down and the horse became obsolete and were turned loose to fend for themselves. Farmers who settled all of Alberta also had little use for their hard working draft horses and were sold, turned loose or just wandered off on their own to settle into the foothills region. There were even a few horses that lived in Northern Alberta on some of the Smokey River flats up until a few years ago. I remember hearing stories of cowboys who are still alive today who used to go try rounding up some of those horses with some success.
     Some other arguments for the horse put forth are: They are not doing any damage to the environment. Compared to numbers of cattle that graze provincially sanctioned grazing reserves, the horses are very low in numbers. Comparatively, the horses do far less damage, just by the style of grazing that they do. The horses do not eat the growing pine or spruce trees either, if anything they are probably helping the seedlings grow by lessening the grass competition which forest companies pay to do with herbicides. The numbers of horses in the vast acreages involved is really quite small numbers per acre. The government does not seem to have accurate figures for the numbers of horses in the region and will not advertise what numbers they will allow to live there.
     Other discussions are raised about the legality of transporting pregnant mares along with the stresses they go through during trapping, transportation, sorting, auctioning and then the eventual slaughter at the slaughter house at Ft. McLeod. These actions are all seen as being very in-humane treatment for wild animals used to running free in small family groups.
     The beauty of the wild horse is also attracting some tourism to the eastern slopes region that has little other economy except for very environmentally damaging gas, oil, limestone and timber extraction. Any of the tourists that visit this remote region are shocked by the environmental scars etched onto the rugged landscape, far more damaging than what a few horses could do.
     Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) Department of the government has a different mandate regarding the horses. Their claim is that the horses are feral, therefore are an invasive species to the region that compete with natural wildlife such as the moose, deer and elk. The horses have no place in the ESRD plans for the region. They also compete with cattle that are grazed on licensed grazing preserves for a fee which they collect per head. There is some discussion about the hazards of hitting free ranging horses on the public roads. There are some complaints from local ranchers about wildies getting into their hay stacks, wrecking fences and challenging tame horses.
      One of the main disappointments was the perceived dishonesty of ESRD as it was understood that there was an agreement in place to try a contraception regime for a year or two while a proper population number was established that would be agreeable to all parties. There are totally different opinions upon the numbers of horses that live here as happens with other wildlife as well. This agreement was in place in Nov. 2014 and now ESRD suddenly and without any consultation, decided to do a cull of about 75 wild horses from the Ghost River region. They have agreed to allow Wild Horses of Alberta Society, (WHOAS) to adopt as many of the captures as they want before the rest are sent to auction and thence, for possible slaughter. I understand that the auction will take place at Innisfail on Saturday, Sept. 28.
      I would have liked to see many more people out at the Legislature to support the wild horses of Alberta. I don't think we made much of an impression upon the government when they are trying to gain as much income into their depleted coffers as possible. If they were genuinely in policy agreement, why do they have a band of wild horses running free and looking great in their Alberta tourism advertisements? Horses really do promote the romantic, wild and free aspects of our current vision and heritage.

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