Currently more than 1,400 feral horses are located across six equine management zones in Alberta. Some equine management zones are facing significant challenges to the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem because of the number of horses on the landscape.
Alberta’s public rangelands are productive ecosystems that support many land uses, including recreation, forestry and resource extraction, wildlife, livestock and feral horses. All these uses need to be managed and balanced to ensure rangelands do not become degraded.
As the feral horse population grows, horses move from areas with good foraging opportunities into areas that are less able to support them. This puts pressure on other wildlife and livestock and creates challenges for ecological stability.
By establishing and implementing a science-based management framework for feral horses, Alberta’s government can better support the species while continuing to protect rangelands and other animals that live on the landscape.
“While past efforts to inform and engage Albertans on feral horses were unsuccessful, our management framework outlines clear, simple and honest efforts that we hope will resonate with Albertans and ensure we maintain the sustainability of the landscape where feral horses live. Alberta’s feral horses are part of our culture and are appreciated by many Albertans.”
The importance of management frameworks
Management frameworks are essential to protect Alberta’s wildlife, grazing animals and biodiversity. Without a framework in place, feral horses can negatively affect wildlife, birds, fish, cattle and vegetation.
Many game and livestock species that live in Alberta’s ecosystems have management plans. From trout to bighorn sheep to grizzly bears, the government develops management plans to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the species and ecosystems in which they reside.
The new management framework was developed with input from the Feral Horse Advisory Committee. The committee includes stakeholders, subject matter experts, academic researchers and key organizations that provide insight into Alberta’s feral horse population.
The framework includes a pilot project with the Wild Horses of Alberta Society where capture permits are issued to place distressed or nuisance feral horses into adoption programs.
Alberta’s government is committed to working with universities to continue learning about feral horses and better understand their behaviour through research and ongoing monitoring. The management framework is the first major step toward long-term sustainable management of feral horses and reaffirms their importance to Albertans and their place on the landscape.
- Alberta’s feral horses are descendants of abandoned or released domestic horses that were used in logging, guiding and outfitting operations in the early 1900s.
- There are six equine management zones in the province: Brazeau, Nordegg, Clearwater, Sundre, Ghost River and Elbow.
- In 2023, the Alberta government conducted a count of feral horses across the province. This is referred to as a “minimum count” as there may be more feral horses than those counted by observers.
- Brazeau: 18
- Nordegg: 33
- Clearwater: 97
- Sundre: 969
- Ghost River: 311
- Elbow: 84 (estimate based on 2022 counts)