September 2015 update on the horse problem
I have received many complaints in the last few weeks about the very large herd wandering the West Bench recently. And, when looking at this site, I see that my last update on the horse problem was a year ago. So what has happened in the past year?
On the surface not much. But under the surface there has been some significant progress within the PIB to address this issue.
First some background: When talking to people (often upset people) about the horse issue, they inevitably point out that the RDOS or the PIB should "do something." Fair enough. But the problem, as I have pointed out in the past, is that it is not obvious to me what this "something" should be. At bottom, the situation boils down to this:
- Some members of the PIB own horses that wander PIB and non-PIB lands.
- The leadership of the PIB and many members of the PIB would like to see something done about the large number of horses.
- HOWEVER, the PIB has no bylaws regarding horse ownership.
I am a bit surprised when discussing this situation with people how they seem to forget that governments in modern liberal democracies cannot simply step into people's lives and tell them what to do. That is as true on PIB lands as it is everywhere else in Canada. Unless a properly-enacted law or bylaw is being violated, governments have no authority to compel people to do anything. So the leadership of the PIB currently cannot do much about horses wandering PIB (and non-PIB) lands. Obviously, the RDOS has even less authority than the PIB. The only realistic alternative available to us is to build a massive fence between PIB and non-PIB lands. As anyone who has read this thread knows, the fence + cattle guards option has been investigated in some depth. However, we have serious concerns about the ability of a fence to actually solve the problem. The only thing worse than a thorny horse problem is a thorny horse problem PLUS a bill for $300K.
Progress: What we have seen since 2014 is movement towards a more sustainable solution by the leadership of the PIB. Specifically, the PIB is in the process of enacting bylaws to establish constraints on horse ownership. These bylaws have taken a very long time to prepare and have still not yet received (as of late Sep, 2015) assent of the PIB Council. However, if successfully passed, the bylaws will give the PIB leadership some legitimate authority to address the horse problem--something it currently lacks.
This is pretty significant. It will put the responsibility for horse management back onto the horse owners. If the horse owners fail to live up to this responsibility, the PIB Council will have the authority to act. Obviously, the RDOS will do what it can to help the PIB navigate the last few steps of the bylaw process. But be clear: this is a PIB-lead process for the benefit of the PIB community. Hopefully we will have an update on this in the near future.
One last point: It is clear to me--and should be clear to any observer of this process--that an outcome of horse control on PIB lands will be a reduction in the number of horses. These horses used to be livestock raised and managed for commercial purposes. What we have now is an unmanaged invasive species that has overrun and decimated traditional PIB and non-PIB grasslands. Precisely how this reduction in the number of horses occurs is not up to me or the RDOS. Indeed, that is the whole point of the PIB bylaw: to put the horses squarely back into the category of livestock managed by owners.