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Management Strategies of Free-Roaming Horses in Alberta Compared with Other Jurisdictions

Zomorodi, Sanam, Walker, Tony R.
Rangeland ecology & management 2019 v.72 no.6 pp. 907-915
animal welfare, best management practices, case studies, cattle, cultural heritage, environmental impact, environmental management, feral animals, grasslands, grazing, hills, horses, humans, indigenous peoples, monitoring, ranchers, riparian areas, stakeholders, wildlife management, Alberta, Australia, United States
Management strategies of free-roaming species are subject to polarizing debates around the world. This paper provides perspectives on free-roaming horse management strategies practiced in Alberta and compares them against national management strategies used in Canada and internationally (United States and Australia) to illustrate importance of science-based and socially inclusive management schemes. Owing to their pluralistic status as an introduced and culturally significant species of western Canada, free-roaming horse populations are a contentious environmental management issue in Alberta. Some stakeholders (e.g., indigenous people, horse and animal rights advocates) believe the government aims to extirpate free-roaming horses in favor of cattle grazing. However, the Albertan government and ranchers believe it is important to conserve and manage free-roaming horse populations for all land users while minimizing adverse environmental effects in sensitive foothill and mountain grasslands and associated riparian areas in Alberta. Despite this contention, a systematic approach that is mindful of the history and cultural value of horses to society is required to properly manage this species. Best management practices from case studies were used to compare against four main concerns identified from the literature of free-roaming horse management used in Alberta. Concerns include 1) cultural heritage values, 2) free-roaming (or wild) horse designation, 3) lack of scientifically rigorous population monitoring, and 4) societal considerations. Ecological effects of free-roaming horses and human dimensions of their management are discussed. It is recommended that lessons learned from other jurisdictions be applied to free-roaming horse management in Alberta to provide a more holistic framework as the government develops a “feral horse management strategy.”