The RDOS has joined with the PIB and District of Summerland to develop a plan to manage wild horses.

The RDOS has joined with the PIB and District of Summerland to develop a plan to manage wild horses.

Work begins to rein in wild horses near Penticton

Controlling herd size likely to include rounding up some horses for slaughtering and sterilizing a portion of mares that remain

Nearly 600 wild horses were counted on Penticton Indian Band lands in March during an aerial survey that’s expected to underpin development of a new plan to manage the animals’ numbers.

Wild horses have been a frequent cause for concern for motorists, homeowners and agriculturalists on the West Bench and neighbouring areas from Kaleden to Summerland, but coming up with a strategy to control them has been difficult due to issues arising from ownership of the animals and the lands on which they range.

Now the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has joined with the PIB and District of Summerland to help develop a long-range management plan to finally address the problem.

“This issue has not happened overnight, nor is it going to be resolved overnight, so I think we’re taking careful steps that need to be done,” project co-ordinator Zoe Kirk told the RDOS board on Thursday.

Dolly Kruger, the PIB councillor assigned to the initiative, said a crucial first step is quantifying the size of the problem.

She told the board a count conducted in 2009 identified 217 horses that belonged to 16 different people, while in March an aerial survey spotted 558 animals.

Options to manage herd sizes range from rounding up animals for slaughter — last done in 2009 —  to sterilizing them, then erecting fencing to keep them out of populated areas.

Kruger suggested the most prudent course of action would see one or two round-ups of horses for slaughter, followed by regular sterilization of mares using dart guns that deliver contraceptive drugs.

She said simply selling the horses would be difficult.

“Because there are so many studs out there and because there is so much inbreeding going on out there right now… they’re not healthy,” Kruger explained.

She estimated the RDOS and PIB have spent a combined $57,000 to manage the horse problem since 2009, and her group is committed to finding a cost-effective, permanent fix.

“At our council table, that’s what we see and that’s what we feel: that we’ve moved this forward more than it’s ever been moved forward before.”

Although it was noted the work is heavily dependent upon the availability of grant money, Michael Brydon, the RDOS director for West Bench, said that shouldn’t stop development of a management strategy.

“I don’t think it’s a show-stopper, in the sense that we have to come up with some sort of plan and then say, ‘How are we going to fund it?” he said.

Members of the project team expect to spend the summer conducting research and meeting with community and government officials, followed by production of a draft plan in the fall and implementation in early 2015 if everything goes as hoped.