Pack up your horses or ship 'em out.
That's essentially the message that the Mount Currie chief and council put out to livestock owners last week.
In a letter drafted after a council meeting on March 2, council orders that all livestock owners bring their animals, horses and cattle back to the band pasture or to their own farms by March 10.
"There was a very serious accident on the road over by the Festival Grounds last week," the letter read. "Two horses were hit, but the more serious part of the accident was that a young person could have been badly hurt. These animals have been reported to the band and the owners many times over the last winter and previous winters.
"The band has now been put in a position where some action must be taken. Open range can be taken away, it is not a right, it can change if abused."
The letter came on the heels of concerns about how horses are being treated in Mount Currie. Pique reported last week that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will not be investigating horse owners from the reserve east of Pemberton despite concerns about how they're being cared for.
A herd of approximately 60 horses has been leaving pasture in Mount Currie and heading for the Pemberton Festival property, which many see as their winter grazing grounds. They have thus been traversing Highway 99 from Mount Currie over the past few winters and often make the trip at night, when it's foggy and difficult for drivers to spot the animals.
The situation reached a head on Feb. 17 when motorists struck two horses near the festival grounds. One horse died shortly after the impact and another had to be shot.
Horses found on the festival property were moved back to their grounds in Mount Currie but more horses were later seen migrating back into Pemberton. The Pemberton RCMP helped move 25 horses back to Mount Currie as recently as March 2.
Now Mount Currie is getting tough. The Band Council said in its letter that any horses found wandering after March 10 will not be considered the property of band members.
"There is not enough food value in the grass yet; they need access to salt and water," the letter reads. "The horses are suffering, which is not fair to them and the possibility of someone being hurt or killed is very real. If you cannot take care of your stock, then you should ship them out."
Horses migrate into Pemberton for a number of reasons. Among other things, old stock horses that are older than most of the herd consider the area open range. Some, like Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, believe the horses have been abandoned.
Others say the horses travel to Pemberton because they're not being fed sufficiently by their owners and lick salt off the highway to get sustenance.
Lori Mitchell, a Pemberton resident who lives next door to the festival grounds, said animals from Mount Currie such as horses and cattle have gotten on to her property often enough that she had to put up some fencing to keep them out.
"In the fall, sometimes we just don't bother chasing them off because they just come back in," she said. "I've had cows, too, and llamas, all sorts of loose animals."
Mitchell has read the Mount Currie letter and said it's a "big start" that the band has publicly acknowledged the problem and the "action and ownership that needs to be taken."
She added, however, that the "open range" issue hasn't been addressed. She said the horses treat the highway as open range despite the fact that the province requires a permit to move animals across and down the highway, as per a note from the Ministry of Transportation.
"It is good to have a written band statement from which we can build on and work towards resolving this long standing issue," Mitchell wrote in an e-mail.
Most of the horses are believed to belong to Mount Currie rancher Wayne Andrew. Pique has not been able to reach him for comment.
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