Why can’t the government make the right decision about wild horses culls in Alberta?
In my view, because the wrong people are handling the issue.
Wildies management falls under the Alberta Grazing & Range division whose mandate is to preserve forage for cattle. The range biologists are very knowledgeable about vegetation and livestock grazing needs of crown land.
However, since Wildies do not fall under the Wildlife Act, forage specialists are managing a mammal population that is far beyond their expertise: that is where things fall apart.
When range biologists are questioned on survey methodology and population estimates of Wildies (which often make no sense such as impossible population growth…) no sound explanation is put forth. And that is normal because they are out of their proficiency and budget zone.
On the other hoof, Fish & Wildlife biologists are very skilled at producing reliable population COUNTS for ‘huntable’ species (moose, elk, deer…) with strong confidence intervals. Statistically significant population counts are achieved through properly designed survey methods such as stratified blocks, and time tested computer modelling. It’s about defining age and sex cohorts AND the variables that affect those.
All that range specialists have been able to do is establish TRENDS based on poor methodology – this would be totally unacceptable for our ‘huntable’ species.
So how many Wildies should be culled (what sex and age, and in which area) have so far been done based on wild trends guesstimates.
As a result, culls have been very poorly executed.
Sadly, this inefficiency elegantly demonstrates that culls beget more culls when done inappropriately. And that is a waste for all.
Cecil the lion always ‘belonged’ to trophy hunters.
He lived in the wild but on borrowed time.
Cecil’s time was up when trophy hunter Palmer decided it was.
And so it is with entire ecosystems across the world.
Alberta is no different.
Alberta has sold/given crown land rights away to extraction companies, ranchers and hunters decades ago.
In doing so, Alberta has privatized chunks of crown land and abandoned its role as steward to become a landlord.
Often, a very generous landlord.
Wild animals and their habitats, a cherished public heritage, are now at the mercy of short-sighted private industry groups.
And so every year, the charade of evaluating secretive information (not accessible to public) about Wildies to decide their fate has become a disappointing winter ritual.
But really who owns the Wildies?
Isn’t it time for Alberta to transition back from a landlord role to one of stewardship?
Over the last 3 decades, the Alberta landscape has increasingly been taken over by private interests. The “multi-use” reassurance has often degenerated to abuse as Fish & Wildlife has seen its conservation mandate decline to insignificance.
If the short-sighted often unmitigated multi-use of our crown land has become business as usual, it is time to become unreasonable and create a new vision.
I propose the following blueprint:
1. Rebuild our Fish & Wildlife agency and populate it with bright wildlife managers AND conservation biologists.
2. Move Fish & Wildlife Officers out of Solicitor General’s office where they are isolated and bring them back in the game within the F & W agency.
3. Give some teeth to compliance and oversight – abuse of the land by whatever party must STOP.
4. Headwaters and Fisheries must be a priority again: drinking water, flood prevention and tourism should be taken more seriously. Really.
5. Open public consultations – there is a wealth of genius out there and exchange of info will bring clarity to issues for all.
(Get rid of advisory committees: if the feral horse one is any indication, they are stellar examples of ineptitude and incompetence, never mind unacceptably secretive).
6. Single portfolio ministry – raising standards handling the Alberta landscape is a gigantic task, who has time to handle Status of Women as well?
We need to STOP seeing our wildlife and ecosystems as overburden and see them as precious resources of which we hold stewardship.
Don’t you agree?
Inquisitive Wildies in logged area by Duane Starr Photography
Thank you to all who contributed suggestions by email or snail mail.