1. How can I get to see the wild horses?
It has been very difficult to get to see the wild horses of the Preserve at any time. Since the great fire of 2003 it is more difficult than ever. The central range area in the Brittany Triangle is 20 to 30 kilometers from the nearest gravel road. The nearest town is Williams Lake over 200 kilometers away over mostly gravel roads. Remoteness is partly why this area is such a sanctuary. It is definitely not recommended that anyone attempt to go into the Preserve without a guide. Considerable wilderness experience is necessary. We recommend that those interested contact the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government band office in the Nemiah Valley at (250) 394-7023). They can either put you in touch with several local lodges that provide guides, or they may provide an experienced guide themselves. Remember, it is because the horses are not used to people that they are wild. Access to the Preserve other than on foot or horseback is discouraged. Grizzlies, black bears and mountain lion are present. Motorized access is contrary to the Aboriginal Wilderness Preserve Declaration. It is illegal within Nunsti Park.
2. Are you an environmental organization or a native rights organization?
The short answer might be both. We began as environmentalists who discovered a common cause with the Xeni Gwet’in, the original people of the area whose homeland it has always been. The Xeni Gwet’in acted to protect the land and animals, including the wild horses, long before we came upon the scene. We respect and support the obvious justice of their claim to rights and title. The Aboriginal Wilderness Preserve Declaration and the ?Elegesi Qiyus Wild Horse Preserve Declaration, supported by a series of voluntary Protocol Agreements between us provide a common focus and guidelines for the work we both do.
3. Aren’t the wild horses in the Chilcotin just feral horses that have escaped from ranches? Where else could they have come from?
There is no doubt that some of these horses did escape from ranches and a mixing of bloodlines has occurred over the years. However, it is also now indisputable that horses were present many years before the arrival of Simon Fraser, the first European explorer in 1808. Our research and that of scholars suggests that these early horses were traded into the area by First Nations in the 18th century. They may also have arrived as wild horses, drifting up from the Great Plains of the U.S. into the Interior Plateau of British Columbia. Xeni Gwe’in elders state that they have been present and part of their culture for as long as anyone can remember. We regard the argument, feral vs. wild, to be a political one designed to invalidate the status of the horses as legitimate inhabitants of the natural ecosystem. Anyway, after hundreds of years they have integrated into the ecosystem and have become thoroughly wild in behaviour and habit.
4. Are there wild horses anywhere else in Canada?
Yes, there is even a sanctuary for about two hundred wild horses on Sable Island out in the Atlantic off Nova Scotia, the only other one in Canada. There are also wild horses in the Alberta foothills, perhaps several hundred. We hear stories of a few still remaining in some parts of the Okanagan. In the southern Yukon there may be guide/outfitters horses which have gone wild. There are also a few hundred in Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) outside the ?Elegesi Qiyus Preserve. But apart from those on Sable Island, none are protected. There is no area set aside where they can survive unmolested in all the vast Canadian landscape.
5. What about other wild animals in the Brittany Triangle? Don’t you want to protect them, too?
Our goal is to protect the entire natural ecosystem of the Brittany Triangle (the core home range of the wild horses). This includes all wild animals. We believe that by saving habitat necessary to the future of the wild horses we also protect it for the grizzlies, wolves, mountain lion, lynx, wolverine, marten, moose, mule deer, squirrels, waterfowl and field mice.
6. Don’t the wild horses threaten other animals like moose and deer by eating their food?
Research has shown that there is little competition between horses and ungulates like moose and deer. Horses are grazers while moose and deer are browsers. Moose and deer eat the leaves of the willow and other bushes in the wet meadows and riparian areas of the Preserve. Horses graze on the sedges and grasses of the predominantly dry meadows. There is probably some overlap between the grazing of the horses and the eating of grasses in the meadows by bears in the spring and summer. Our observations and research, however, reveal healthy bear populations. Bears also eat berries, roots of plants like silverweed (potentila), ants and grubs, and spawning salmon.
The wild horses also provide prey biomass (food) for the predators. In this way they take pressure off moose and deer and probably enable them to survive in greater numbers.
7. Why doesn’t the government (of B.C.) just declare the area a park? Wouldn’t that be good enough for you?
Under other circumstances that could work for us. However, to the Tsilhqot’in people of Xeni this is their land. It has been so for thousands of years, long before the arrival of the strangers from Europe and elsewhere in the 19th. century. The land is the source of their sustenance and identity as a people. It provides meaning, as does their relationship with its wild inhabitants, including the horses. We hope for them a sustainable economic future in contemporary times through wilderness tourism, traditional hunting and gathering, and perhaps a modest ecoforestry plan which will provide material for their own housing needs and some economic development. Friends of the Nemaiah Valley work with them to develop viable systems like an eco-sytem based forestry plan and a Conservation Area Design Plan. There is a possibility here to develop a sustainable relationship between humans and the environment that can be a model for communities everywhere. To impose a park could simply serve to further disrupt the relationship between the Xeni Gwet’in and the natural environment they have inhabited and yet preserved for many generations.
8. What about the loggers who will lose their jobs if you prevent logging in the Brittany Triangle? Don’t you care about them?
We do care. We would like to see as full employment as possible for woods workers. But this must be done in a sustainable way based on the ability of the forests of the Chilcotin to grow trees. It must not be done at the expense of essential values like the environment we animals all depend upon for life. It shouln’t be done at the expense of long term economic development which will provide a healthy and reasonably prosperous life for the permanent residents of Chilcotin. We believe this is especially so for First Nations who have been here the longest. The sad truth is that a logging infrastructure has been created which is simply not sustainable. We believe maximizing employment based on clear-cutting the precious forests of the Chilcotin for a few years is a short sighted and cruel policy which will hurt those who are attempting to build families on such frail foundations.
9. Won’t the number of horses grow to the point where they destroy the rangeland and aren’t they terribly hard on it anyway?
Without some sort of control mechanism this certainly can happen. Much of the historical animosity towards horses running wild is that they consumed so much forage that they competed with range cattle on crown lands. This same animosity driven by fear is behind the opposition to wild horses led by cattlemen and government today. But where there are natural controls, such as in the Brittany Triangle, we don’t believe this fear is justified. Here, a full range of natural predators abound. Grizzly and black bears, mountain lion and gray wolves act as a natural control on horse numbers. Such a natural balance appears to have existed here for many years. Harsh winters at the relatively high altitudes of the Preserve area also ensure that only the fittest horses survive. Despite hundreds of years of grazing by wild horses, there is an abundance of forage. If there were not, horse numbers would naturally diminish. A poorly fed horse will not survive a winter in their wilderness habitat.
10. How can I help save this beautiful area and its magnificent wildlife, including the horses?
You can help by writing your B.C. MLA, ministers of the provincial government, and the premier. It is also good to write to federal MPs and ministers. Don’t hesitate to write, call or arrange a meeting with any politician. The courts are being called upon to make vital decisions re aboriginal title over the lands of the ?Elegesi Qiyus Wild Horse Preserve, but politicians have the power to save the wild horses and their habitat independent of that. They need to be convinced of the importance of this issue and that a treasured part of the heritage of all Canadians is at risk. A nationally recognized Wild Horse Sanctuary can be a win win for everybody; for First Nations people, for the citizens of British Columbia and Canada, and most of all for the wild herds of the Tsilhqot’in. Of course, donations to Friends of the Nemaiah in support of the research and stewardship programmes we undertake are always welcome, too!