An aerial count of the wild horses that inhabit the foothills in Alberta between between Kananaskis Country and Sundre shows that numbers have fallen since last year.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development said on Tuesday that its count revealed 880 wild horses in the foothills, about 100 fewer than last year’s count.
The department said the 880 represents the number of horses physically seen, which meant the actual number of animals would be higher.
The helicopter count is done by flying over areas where herds are common. Helicopters are used rather than fixed-wing aircraft 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. It is divided into equine zones; with some zones taking 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.
The department noted that while fewer horses were seen this year, significant population increases had been the trend over the past decade.
It said knowing the trends helped it effectively manage the province’s rangeland to ensure the native grasses remained 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,” the department said in a blog post.
Following a jump recorded in the 2013 count to 980 horses, up from 778 the previous year, a six-week capture season was declared, with options for the removal of up to 196 horses.
However, only 15 horses were rounded up by two ranchers. They either kept the horses for personal use, sold them to neighbours, or they were sent to slaughter.