Free-ranging or feral horses (Equus ferus caballus) were important to the livelihood of First Nations and indigenous communities in Canada. The early inhabitants of the boreal region of British Columbia (BC) capitalized on naturally occurring wildfires and anthropogenic burning to provide forage for free-ranging horses and manage habitat for wildlife. This form of pyric herbivory, or grazing driven by fi re via the attraction to the palatable vegetation in recently burned areas, is an evolutionary disturbance process that occurs globally. However, its application to manage forage availability for free-ranging horses has not been studied in northern Canada. Across Canada, there are varying levels of governance for feral and free-ranging horses depending on the provincial jurisdiction and associated legislation. The BC Range Act (Act) allows range tenure holders to free-range horses that they own for commercial operations on Crown land. Big-game guide outfitters as range tenure holders are provided grazing licences or grazing permits under the Act with an approved range use plan. Guide outfitters and other range tenure holders have incorporated fi re ecology as part of their rangeland management in mountainous portions of the boreal forest of northeastern BC to promote mosaics of vegetation height and species composition across the landscape to meet nutritional requirements of their free-ranging horses. Using resource selection function models, we evaluated the influence of pyric herbivory on boreal vegetation and use by horse herds occupying 4 distinct landscapes. We found that horses preferentially selected recently burned areas and areas that burned more frequently when they were available. We also found that horses avoided steep slopes and forest cover types. Fire and the ecological processes associated with it, including pyric herbivory, are important considerations when managing boreal rangelands in northeastern BC. Because historical fi re regimes of the boreal region of Canada differ from the arid regions of the United States inhabited by feral horses, the role of pyric herbivory in altering horse distributions in the United States is limited.
Leverkus, Sonja E. R.; Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.; Geertsema, Marten; Allred, Brady W.; Gregory, Mark; Bevington, Alexandre R.; Engle, David M.; and Scasta, J. Derek
"Resource Selection of Free-ranging Horses Influenced by Fire in Northern Canada,"
Human–Wildlife Interactions: Vol. 12
, Article 10.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol12/iss1/10