Pembertonians and Mount Currie residents are demanding action after two horses died in car accidents near the Pemberton Festival grounds on Feb. 17.
At about 10:30 a.m. an officer with the Stl'atl'imx Tribal Police was travelling south on Highway 99 near the site of the 2008 Pemberton Festival. The officer came upon a two-vehicle, two-horse accident. The first vehicle struck a horse and it died as a result of the impact.
The second vehicle was travelling north when its occupants saw the accident. They tried to turn around and help but another horse struck their car. Police had to shoot that one at the scene.
The highway was closed for 30 minutes and reopened for an hour with only single-lane alternating traffic.
This is the latest in a string of incidents involving cars and horses in the Pemberton-Mount Currie area. A herd of about 18 horses is believed to come from Mount Currie and use the festival property as its winter grazing grounds. They travel along the highway from a pasture about four kilometres to the east and seek feeding grounds in Pemberton. They were there as recently as Monday.
Sgt. Eric Rochette of the Pemberton RCMP said most of the horses belong to Wayne Andrew, a Mount Currie resident who lives close to the reserve's rodeo grounds. Rochette said he met with Andrew Monday and helped him herd the horses back to his property.
He then informed Andrew of various consequences he could face for letting the horses get out again.
"Under the Livestock Act he can be liable," Rochette said. "ICBC could technically go after him if there's another collision and ICBC has to pay a lot of money to the injured driver."
He went on to say this was the second discussion he's had with Andrew about the horses. The animals could be seized if they get loose again and he would have to make an application to get them back. Andrew has not yet been charged with anything.
Patricia Ritchie, a resident of Portage Road, said more and more horses have been found on the highway in the past three years.
"These horses, I believe, are rodeo horses that they use up in Mount Currie in the summer," she said. "In the winter, rather than feeding them, they just open the gates and let them graze wherever they can find food and water. They just open the gates and let them go."
Horses trotting along the highway have proven to be a real hazard for motorists. They are difficult to see at night and during periods of heavy fog. Mount Currie Band Chief Leonard Andrew has nearly hit them himself.
"We've been very concerned about that throughout the winter," he said. "As soon as the weather gets very mild, which it is, then they do have a tendency to go away from wherever their feeding grounds are. That's what's happening here."
Fay Nelson, a senior employment assistance service worker with the Lower Stl'atl'imx Tribal Council who trained horses for 12 years, said the Mount Currie area was previously known as "open range" to the horses and that "old stock" breeds, meaning animals who are about 30 to 35 years old, still treat it the same way.
"They're on the road for a couple of different reasons," she said. "One, they need the mineral salts, so when they salt the roads they go on the roads to find the minerals. I feel it's happening because they're just so used to standing on the road and people driving around them, but there's always the odd driver that doesn't see them."
Nelson said another horse was killed last fall in a hit-and-run incident on Lillooet Lake Road. She added that they seem to get hit on the highway every year.
"We've put letters over to (Mount Currie) chief and council to try and get a handle on why certain families aren't taking in the horses for the winter," she said. "They're roaming, they're taking over the whole territory and though it is free range and that's the way it is... I think as soon as the horses are spotted outside their range they need to be reported to their owners."
Andrew said the Mount Currie Band is working on a bylaw to regulate grazing grounds for horses and cattle but added the band might not be obligated to take care of the problem on its own.