Amid concerns about a potential boom in the wild horse population — and the land’s ability to support them — a new study of the famous equines has been undertaken in Alberta’s Foothills.

Paul Boyce, a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan, aims to collect new, valuable data on the population and determine the carrying capacity of the land for wild horses.

“We hope (the data) will inform the management strategies moving forward,” said the student, who first visited the Sundre area about five months ago and spent his first six weeks of field time in the area in July and August.

The study is important, as Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) spokesperson Jamie Hanlon notes the increase of horses from 2013 to 2017 was 222 animals, not counting horse captures in 2014 and 2015.

“Other jurisdictions have seen unmanaged populations double in four years until resources become limiting,” said Hanlon. “Long-term population trend lines, and the yearling-to-adult ratios, show that Alberta may be experiencing this kind of exponential growth.”

Hanlon added that landscape occupied by horses is grazed year-round, allowing no time for recovery. He said as feral horses are unmanaged, they create “a significant challenge to a balanced approach to land use.”

Hanlon said one of the challenges of continual grazing is the increasing density of invasive species, such as Timothy, Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome, which can displace native species.

Boyce’s five-year project, which is under the supervision of Philip D. McLoughlin at the UofS Department of Biology, is independent, but intended to inform the work of the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS). He aims to learn how dense of a wild horse population the land is able to sustain.

WHOAS is part of an advisory committee, which also includes outfitters, ranchers, veterinarians, conservation groups and rangeland experts that helps the …read more

Source:: Calgary Herald

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