This seems to be shaping up to be a light year for horses on the West Bench. Unfortunately, a herd is now vandalizing Red Wing (thanks to Don Kelly for the photo below). This is a problem because the horses are using Highway 97 to get there (witness the droppings along the highway). The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (contact info) has been notified about this serious highway hazard. I am not sure what they will do about it.
Back to the West Bench: I think there are at least two causes for the dramatic decrease in horse activity on the bench compared to the winter of 2008-09. First, according to Chief Kruger, horse owners on the PIB removed upwards of 100 animals from the herd. This is good news because, according to the range consultant who the RDOS hired to look at the PIB lands last year, more horses were grazing on PIB land than the range could sustain. Second, the RDOS and PIB have been operating feeding stations on the flats above the West Hills Aggregates and Peter Bros. gravel pits since late December. This is a photo I took on Christmas Eve. The hay is gone and has been replaced with manure—a good sign that the feed stations are working.
Here is a brief summary how the feeding stations are currently operating (thanks to Joe Fitzpatrick of the RDOS for setting this up):
- PIB staff can access the feeding sites using a road behind the PIB administration buildings. Travis Kruger has been monitoring the site and calling for more hay as necessary.
- John van Horlick delivers hay to the feeding stations when called. He saw thirty horses at the feeding area on one visit, so the site seems to be serving its purpose to distract some horses from settled areas. We estimate the annual cost of hay for this winter will be roughly $2,500. This money is coming from Area F contingency funds.
- Access to water is a concern when feeding horses dry hay. Fortunately, there have been cycles of snow and melting snow, which allow puddles to form and supply water much of the time. Also, the horses seem capable of finding water elsewhere (e.g., Shingle Creek is relatively close to the feeding stations for a horse). Band members, RDOS staff, and Mr. van Horlick have been monitoring the horses for signs of distress that might indicate colic. So far, so good.
The fence plan is still working its way through the design stages. I should have a detailed proposal soon (here are some back-of-the-envelope cost estimates).