A vital first step is to get a true and accurate count of the tribe’s horse population. Over the years, the tribe has said it has anywhere from 800 to 6,000 horses, yet these appear to be speculative estimates at best. At their periodic roundups, the tribe typically brings in only about 40 to 160 horses. If the population were as large as they say, we would expect much larger numbers being brought in for sale.
Next, the tribe should conduct an honest assessment of where these horses originate. While many are undoubtedly born on the reservation’s sprawling and majestic rangelands, some are also turned loose by the tribal members themselves and allowed to breed at will.
An independent range management expert could examine the reservation rangelands and determine the approximate carrying capacity for all of the animals that call the reservation home, including horses, livestock and wildlife. A scientific assessment would provide the right information for determining exactly what the optimum population levels are for the tribe’s wild horse herd. This is an important step for choosing the best possible methods for controlling the growth of the population.
And finally, before turning to the publicly distasteful option of sending these magnificent creatures to slaughter, we suggest the tribe consult with other entities that are using humane and sustainable population control methods for their wild horse herds. The National Park Service, among others, is successfully using immunocontraceptives to control horse populations around the nation, and there is no reason to think that those methods wouldn’t work just as well on the Warm Springs reservation. If the tribe concludes that some animals must be gathered and removed, all efforts should be made to make sure those animals are sent to permanent homes where they will be treated with kindness and respect.
Sending the horses to slaughter is no solution. It is a betrayal of these icons of the American West and will only be met with
disgust and controversy in this country, where 80 percent of Americans strongly oppose the practice.
The horse-slaughter industry was never good for the economy — it was good for the profiteers, and no one else. The foreign-owned horse-slaughter plants that operated in the U.S. until 2007 caused nothing but controversy and problems. They employed no more than a few dozen people in low-paying, highly dangerous jobs. The communities that hosted the plants were
constantly beset by pollution and the unending stench of rotten blood and offal. The negative images created by these operations caused other businesses to look elsewhere for a place to set up shop.
Oregonians, native and nonnative alike, have a deep love for horses and a concern for their welfare, as evidenced recently by the overwhelming approval by the Oregon Legislature of a bill to ban the cruel “sport" of horse tripping. Instead of sending these iconic creatures to a horrific death in a slaughter plant, we urge the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs to adopt a comprehensive herd management plan that embraces the tribe’s long and proud history of caring for and cherishing their horses. The Humane Society of the United States and Equine Outreach, Inc. would be glad to meet with tribal leaders to establish a sustainable program of which the tribe can be proud.
Scott Beckstead is senior Oregon director of The Humane Society of the United States. Joan Steelhammer is president of Equine Outreach.