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I received the following comment from a resident:

I glad to hear this problem is being addresses. It doesn't matter if they are native horses if they are off native land the horses need to be impounded. Many are branded and ownership can be traced. If ownership can be proven they should be returned to owner. Costs associated with animal should be charged against owner. The unclaimed animals need to be certified healthy and should be sold.

I would argue that it is a bit more complex than this. There are at least two issues here:

  1. We currently do not have legal authority to impound horses. To do so we would have to create a Pound Area under the Livestock Act.
  2. As I read the legislation, a Pound Area implies a fence.  In other words, we would have to create a fence to keep out the livestock first.  Then we could impound horses on our side of the fence.

Putting aside the cost of the fence, the key question here is the following: Do we want to do this?  We have, under past Area F directors, tried to round up horses and return them to their owners from the PIB. Private citizens on the West Bench have also taken the initiative to do periodic round-ups. In all cases, the horses were collected by the owner, trotted down the street to the boundary with the PIB, and released.  With out effective fencing the horses were back on the West Bench within a matter of hours.

Some have argued that the way around this situation above is to create more compelling economic incentives.  For example, we could require the PIB members to pay to get their horses back. The owners might then be motivated to better manage their herds. One obvious problem with this suggestion is that the horses are not worth much!  Faced with a large recovery fee, the horse owners might simply leave the horses with us.  We then become the horse owner.  As the experience of the Bureau of Land Management in the USA vividly illustrates, we do not want to be in the horse owning business.

Here is my view as the current Area F director: The people of Area F should want nothing to do with this problem until we are certain it can be solved.  As soon as the RDOS takes responsibility for this problem, we own it.  This means we could also end up being legally liable for the horses. When I say "we", I mean all of us.  A lawsuit against the RDOS would be paid by taxpayers of the RDOS.  The risk of liability would not be an issue if we were absolutely sure we could solve the horse problem by ourselves.  But we are not sure about this--we clearly have no control over what happens on the PIB and very little influence on the legislation coming out of Victoria.  The last thing we want to do is take ownership of a problem we cannot actually solve.

Our current strategy is to leave this problem clearly and unambiguously in the hands of the PIB but then do what we can to support them as they work towards a solution.  Fortunately, we have seen a pretty major change in attitude in 2014 as the horse problem becomes unbearable.  And with Skaha Hills coming on line, the leadership of the PIB has realized that the issue must be dealt with.  In the last few months we have seen work on new fencing between Westhills Aggregates and the West Bench, a new cattle guard, and a sale of horses for bucking stock.  Although I cannot speak for the PIB, my understanding is that additional horse sales are scheduled for the spring.

These actions will not help much this winter, but they are clear evidence that the leadership of the PIB understands the problem and is working within its own constraints towards a solution.

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