03/18/2015 20:17 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Penticton's wild horses getting closer to downtown

Penticton's wild horses have recently been spotted closer than ever to the city's downtown core.

Considered a nuisance by many in the area, the number of feral and free-roaming horses has risen to nearly 600 over the last decade.

"There was one right under our bedroom window, munching on the grass," said Lucille Choiselat, who lives in the middle of the city, near Okanagan Lake.

Choiselat said three large horses were on her lawn just before dawn.

"I'm not too happy about it," she said. "I think it's a bit dangerous for them to be roaming the streets here."

Many of the horses do or once did belong to members of the Penticton Indian Band.

While the notion of wild horses is romantic to some, others in the South Okanagan find them irritating because they eat up their gardens and cause problems on the road.

And with the size of the herd increasing, there are concerns about damage to the area's sensitive grasslands.

Zoe Kirk, a project coordinator for the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District and a WildSafeBC coordinator, agrees the downtown sightings are "surprising and a wee bit concerning."

While some are completely feral, she says not all the horses are wild. Some are owned, but allowed to roam, while others have been willed to next of kin, sometimes without the inheritor's knowledge.

Working to find solutions

Kirk has been working with the Penticton Indian Band to find solutions.

"I know it is something that they're definitely concerned about," said Kirk. "We are doing our best to support them in whatever initiatives they would like to undertake with the horse issue."

She says the band is almost done building a fence that should resolve the bulk of the issue.

But there are several obstacles impeding an otherwise quick fix. One of the problems is that the three levels of government involved — the regional district, municipalities and the band — all work differently and have their own rules.

Another issue is the very nature of the problem.

"This is not like a weed that you can go out with your backpack sprayer and you're done," said Kirk. "These are living, breathing entities."

She expects the year ahead will be a busy one coming up with a long-term management plan for the horses.

To listen to the full interview with Zoe Kirk, click on the audio labelled: Penticton close to a solution for wild horse problem