VANCOUVER — The B.C. government has paid $73,000 to a Chilcotin First Nation for a moose-enhancement program that included rounding up 14 wild horses and selling them for meat at auction — even though research in the region suggests there is little competition between moose and horses for forage.
The money was also used to train aboriginals how to trap wolves, to conduct a survey of moose kills by native hunters, and to decommission logging roads in an effort to reduce vehicle access for hunting.
Kristen Johnny, spokeswoman for the Tl’etinqox First Nation at Alexis Creek, said the moose-enhancement program ran from October 2012 to March 2013 and that band members rounded up 14 wild horses and herded them into a specially built corral.
“They compete for the same grazing,” she said. “There’s a lot of horses out there. They were then taken to the auction in Williams Lake.”
Asked if the horses wound up slaughtered, she said: “I have no idea. I just know they got sold.”
Pam Abrahamse of the B.C. Livestock Producers Co-operative Association in Williams Lake said that when wild horses are brought in they are auctioned off at the prevailing meat prices and shipped to Alberta.
Although she couldn’t say what ultimately happened to the 14 horses, the issue of wild horses being rounded up and taken to slaughter houses has been controversial for years in Alberta.
Wayne McCrory, an independent biologist who has studied the wild horses of the Chilcotin for a decade, said his research shows there is little competition for forage between the two animals.
“Moose are primarily browsers and horses are basically grazers, with a bit of dietary overlap,” he said.
Several years after fires went through the Brittany Triangle of the Chilcotin, he added, “we had a wintering band of horses on the grassland hillsides ... and at least seven moose using the willow flats and we did not observe any signs of significant habitat overlap and competition. The horses pretty much stayed to the grasses and the moose to the willows.”
Vivian Thomson, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, confirmed the province provided a $73,000 contract to the Tl’etinqox members for “monitoring wildlife harvesting and management.”
She argued that McCrory’s study is “just one opinion” and that there is “no scientific consensus on this issue.” She said there are concerns that both feral horses and moose prefer wetland meadows and that this could cause “behavioural displacement” of moose.
Thomson added that traditional native knowledge “believes there is a competitive relationship between moose and feral horses, and the ministry acknowledges the First Nation’s traditional right to be engaged in horse management activities.”
Tl’etinqox is the largest of six Chilcotin First Nations, with about 1,500 members.