Ongoing drought and decades of overgrazing have devastated grasslands on the Navajo Reservation. With a wild, feral horse population in the tens of thousands, the tribe has made the difficult decision to round up as many of the animals as possible. Most of those horses will end up at a slaughterhouse in Mexico.
At daybreak a group of Navajo cowboys hired by the tribe’s Department of Agriculture set up a corral at a lone windmill. Then they spread out on horseback and atv's in search of the animals. The man in charge, Ray Castillo, was scouting from a hilltop.
"As we were driving in, there was eight of them right down here," say's Ray. "So we figured we'd go after them first. The further in there we go, the more horses we're probably gonna start finding."
This is a problem all over the Western United States. But on the reservation it’s estimated there are somewhere between 60,000 and 75,000 feral horses. Officials say that’s four times what the land can support. So the Navajo tribe has decided to round up as many as possible and sell them since stray horses are dominating windmills, wells, natural springs, going to corrals, breaking into hay barns and causing damage.
Kim Johnson runs the reservation grazing management program. She says earlier this summer the president issued an emergency drought declaration that earmarked 1.3 million dollars to deal with the feral horse problem. About 60 communities, more than half the reservation, have requested roundups.
"There's also animals out there that are injured and nobodies there to take care of them," she says. "They are just dying
a slow death." Once rounded up, the unbranded animals are immediately sent to auction. Kim says the unbranded ones are sold to buyers that are bonded by the Navajo Nation and she believes the destination is Mexico to a slaughter processing
With the horse market at an all time low, the Navajo Nation is getting somewhere between $10 and $20 per head. A quarter of what it costs to bring them off the range. Recently the tribe officially came out in support of a horse slaughter processing plant that’s trying to open closer to home, in New Mexico. A lawsuit has temporarily stopped it from happening.
Erny Zah is a spokesman for the Navajo Nation. He says this has been a really difficult decision to make. "We have a kinship with all our surroundings and the horses, they are a part of our creation myth, they are a part of who we are as people. That's where those old ceremonies come in, of asking for their help by eating their meat, because at times during the winter months our people used to do that, to get strength. The animals are revered."
"This is not something we came to as an abrupt solution," says Zah. "This is something we've weighed, we've thought about we've prayed about and this is the best way we see to manage our horse population."
Some members of the Navajo Nation say taking such drastic measures with a sacred animal should be reached through consensus. Zah says the president's office is just trying to manage the Nation’s resources responsibly.
Source: KUNM Radio by Rita Daniels
Raul Grijalva Will Headline Sept. 4 Press Conference at BLM Horse Facility Near Reno to Call for Wild Horse & Burro Management Reforms
Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, will tour and hold a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center to discuss the current state and future of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the BLM is responsible for managing and preserving wild horses and burros around the country. Over the past few decades, BLM has used a number of controversial management techniques to meet herd quotas required by the law. Approximately 39,000 wild horses and burros roam land managed by the BLM and another 40,000 more are held in BLM facilities like Palomino Valley – the largest holding facility managed by the federal government.
The BLM program currently prioritizes roundups over alternatives that reduce the need for expensive stockpiling. More than half of BLM’s wild horse management budget is spent to provide care for animals in long-term holding facilities.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released‘Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,’which found that federal efforts waste taxpayer money and need major reforms. You can read the full report at
“I’ve been asking for changes for years, and NAS has confirmed that we can save taxpayer money and horses’ lives at the same time by improving this program,” Grijalva said. “We have the information we need. Now it’s time to do something with it.”Congressman Grijalva will be joined by Neda DeMayo, CEO of Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, and Emmy-nominated actress and advocate Wendie Malick. Ahead of the Sept. 9 meeting of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in Washington DC, the speakers will discuss the need to implement the findings of the NAS study and the future of the Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act.
The parties suing USDA to stop horse slaughter before it can start up again in the U.S. agree with the government on one thing: they, too, want to get the court case they brought over as quickly as possible. Bruce A. Wagman, attorney for the plaintiffs, has filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in New Mexico supporting the government’s request for an expedited hearing and briefing
on the merits.
Wagman, who represents the Humane Society of the U.S. and several other animal welfare and horse rescue groups, has suggested a schedule that could put the issue in the hands of Federal District Court Judge M. Christina Armijo by Oct. 10. New Mexico Attorney General Gary K. King joined in Wagman’s motion, which was filed Tuesday.
Judge Armijo has scheduled a Sept. 3 status conference, which attorneys can access by telephone.Wagman still wants Armijo to rule on his motions to change the Aug. 2 temporary restraining order that blocks two companies with grants of inspection for horsemeat packing from starting those operations unless permitted by the court and to reduce or eliminate the costly bond plaintiffs must come up with for the case to proceed.
On the TRO, Wagman wants it to only prohibit USDA from providing equine inspection services to Valley Meat in New Mexico and Responsible Transportation in Iowa. Currently, it also prohibits those companies from operating horse-slaughter businesses, even though the plaintiffs are not suing them. As long as USDA is barred from doing inspections, horses cannot be slaughtered for human consumption.
That became a big concern for the plaintiffs after a federal magistrate imposed a bond against them of nearly $500,000 a month to cover the possibility that USDA wins the case. In other words, it’s meant to cover the economic harm imposed by the plaintiffs if they lose.
Government attorneys representing USDA’s top three food-safety officials say it’s time to end the court battle that has temporarily banned horse slaughter in the U.S. They’ve asked the U.S. District Court in New Mexico to move immediately
to an expedited hearing and ruling on the merits of the case.
This would eliminate the next step that had been anticipated in the case – a hearing on whether to grant the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. They already won a temporary restraining order.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
BLM to test 3 shade options for wild horses at Palomino Valley facility
The Bureau of Land Management's Palomino Valley National Wild Horse and Burro Center will begin testing three different shade options for wild horses and burros over the next two months.
The decision comes after BLM officials met with citizens who were concerned about the animals when the temperature climbs.
The BLM will install the structures as soon as materials arrive at the center on Pyramid Highway, some 20 miles northeast of Reno.
Eric Reid, Acting PVC Facility Manager, is coordinating with the National Mustang Association, of Utah, The Humane Society of the United States and the Northern Nevada Correctional Center to obtain the materials.
As new information is available on the progress of the shade structures, BLM will post updates to www.blm.gov/whb
Government attorneys representing USDA’s top three food safety officials say it’s time to end the court battle that has temporarily banned horse slaughter in the U.S. They’ve asked the U.S. District Court in New Mexico to move immediately to an expedited hearing and ruling on the merits of the case.
This would eliminate the next step that had been anticipated in the case – a hearing on whether to grant the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. They had already won a temporary restraining order.
And, in another motion, Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant U.S. attorney general, has asked the court for permission to file a so-called “surreply” to respond “to Plaintiff’s numerous accusations that Federal Defendants and the United States have acted in bad faith in opposing Plaintiffs’ motion to modify the temporary restraining order and objections to Magistrate Judge Scott’s imposition of a bond requirement ….” In his request, Dreher cites a dozen specific instances where the plaintiffs, led by the Humane Society of the United States, made accusations that he claims are “unfounded and untrue, and easily refuted. In one, the Plaintiff’s say the U.S. hopes to divert funds from ‘important animal rescue and sheltering’ and ‘other public interest cases challenging federal agency abuses.’
“Since the sole focus of the Plaintiff’s reply brief is to make new accusations that attack the motivations and integrity of the United States, Federal Defendants should be afforded the opportunity to set the record straight by filing a surreply,” Dreher’s motion continues.
The federal defendants are U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator Al Almanza.
They were sued by HSUS and other animal and horse protection groups for giving “grants of inspection” to two small horse meatpacking plants, one in Iowa and the other in New Mexico, that planned to open during the first week of August. However, a federal judge in New Mexico issued a temporarily restraining order on Aug. 2 stopping both companies from going forward.
While winning the temporary retaining order, the plaintiffs have strenuously objected to the bond imposed on them by a federal magistrate. The bond, almost $500,000 a month, is intended to reimburse the horse-slaughter companies if the plaintiffs lose the case.
The assistant AG says an expedited hearing on the merits will reduce the “burden and exposure” of both the plaintiffs and the two companies. While a hearing on the preliminary injunction was promised within 30 days of the Aug. 2 temporary restraining order, a date has not yet been made public.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
Navajo Nation President, Ben Shelly
Among many issues President Ben Shelly lobbied for on his trip to Washington D.C. this week, was asking congressional leaders not to support a provision in the 2014 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would reinstate a ban on horse slaughtering. The prospects aren't good, but meanwhile, the owner of a proposed horse slaughterhouse says he'd be willing to locate on the Navajo Nation - whose sovereign status may exempt it from the ban. In 2011, Congress removed a ban on horse slaughtering that had been in place since 2006. Even though the Obama Administration is against horse slaughtering, the U.S Department of Agriculture issued permits to Valley Meat Inc., of Roswell, N.M. and Responsible Transportation in Iowa in June to begin horse slaughter operations.
On Aug. 2, Shelly wrote to U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and other congressional leaders about the Navajo Nation's growing problems with feral horses, including his support for horse slaughtering from a land manager perspective. From his experience from driving across the reservation, especially driving to and from his home in Thoreau, N.M. to the tribal capital in Window Rock, the president said he would tell congressional leaders what he sees first-hand.
"They are starving and dying of thirst," he said about the estimated 75,000 feral horses on the reservation in an Aug. 16 interview with the Navajo Times. "I feel sorry for them," he added. "They're skinny, they're mustangs and they're small." In the letter to Grisham and also in his interview with the Navajo Times, Shelly said the range of the land - about 27,000 square miles - is suitable for only about 30,000 horses, and not 75,000. Shelly said the overpopulation of feral horses has resulted in the imbalance of the Navajo landscape, with the rangeland being depleted, water sources damaged through feces and urine contamination and even fatal car-horse collisions on the highways. He also said that the thousands of free roaming feral horses are competing with other livestock and wild game for resources to survive, which he claims has changed the migratory processes for wild game.
He cited the Navajo Department of Agriculture's statistics about how much of an impact these horses have on the landscape, saying a single feral horse consumes 5 gallons of water per day, or 1,825 gallons of water per year. These feral horses also consume 18 pounds of forage per day, or 6,570 pounds per year. "Removing 159 from the Navajo Nation would save 290,175 gallons of water per year and 1.1 million pounds of forage," the president said. On his trip, Shelly said he would also meet with officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and challenge them about helping tribes with managing their lands, considering
the agency has a history of Indian policy like the 1930s Navajo Livestock Reduction.
"We now have an overstock of horses," he said. "Why are they not here? The BIA should be in charge of this. What happened to that federal policy? That's what needs to be said in Washington, D.C." Though he favors the idea of slaughtering horses to help restore the land back in balance with nature, the president also said he's "open" to other ideas, such as adoptions, before the horses go to slaughter. "I'm open," he said, before adding that if the feral horses couldn't be sold or adopted, slaughter is "the only thing you can do."
Shelly will need to do some major convincing. According to a June 13 press release issued by the House Appropriations Committee, the appropriations bill passed the committee's floor with several amendments. One of those amendments,
sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia), prohibits government funding for inspections of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. - which effectively shuts down the industry. The amendment has bipartisan support. The appropriations bill, which totals about $19.5 billion in discretionary funding, now proceeds to the full House floor for consideration. It is $1.5 billion below the fiscal 2013 bill enacted into law and approximately equal to the current funding level caused by automatic sequestration spending cuts, according to the appropriations committee.
"Horse meat also poses significant food safety issues that make it dangerous for human consumption," she said. "I urge Congress to pass this Agriculture Appropriations bill that will prevent horses, a majestic fixture of the American West, from being methodically and inhumanely put to death."
Like Grisham, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King opposes horse slaughtering. He is an intervener in the U.S. Humane Society's case against the U.S Department of Agriculture for its alleged failure to conduct the proper environmental review before placing inspectors in horse slaughter plants, including at Valley Meat Inc.
"I think horses that have been wild or horses that are undernourished are not horses amenable for human consumption," King said, adding that in the U.S. horses are not perceived as food animals like pigs, chickens or cattle. King said the issue in the case is about the way in which the USDA issued the permit, without environmental review, to have federal inspectors inside Valley Meat Inc.'s operations. "This is something that hasn't been done in a number of years," he said. "It is a major federal action. That is what triggers an necessity for the environmental impact."
The U.S. Humane Society was contacted for an interview, but according to Stephanie Twinning, public relations manager for the organization, lawyers encouraged her not comment on the matter because it's in litigation. The Humane Society has maintained that Armijo's temporary restraining order, which prevents Valley Meat Inc. and other horse processing plants from operating for 30 days, is a step toward ending the inhumane treatment of horses at slaughterhouses.
Armijo has at least until Sept. 3 to decide whether to extend the order to a preliminary injunction, which could put Valley Meat Inc., out of business for at least six months to a year. Valley Meat Inc. owner Rick De Los Santos, however, remains optimistic about how Armijo will rule, because the Humane Society, King and other horse advocate plaintiffs have the burden of proof.
"The Humane Society has burden of proof to prove this to the judge they're correct in what they're saying," De Los Santos said. De Los Santos, whose plant was a cattle slaughterhouse for 22 years, said his company is exempt from the environmental clearance.
In late July, an arsonist set fire to the plant. He is waiting for an October hearing to renew a discharge permit for his operation, which was requested by the New Mexico Environment Department after more than 450 comments were filed against his operation becoming a horse slaughterhouse.
De Los Santos contends that most of the comments are from people from out of the U.S. and state of New Mexico, adding that there were no comments from residents of Roswell, known as a farming community. He also noted that the plaintiffs posted a $495,000 bond, ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Hayes Scott, because Valley Meat Inc., and Responsible Transportation (which has since dropped plans to slaughter horses) would suffer damages and losses from being inoperable.
The Humane Society objects to the bond and challenged it in hearings on Wednesday. The outcome of that hearing was
unavailable as of press time. De Los Santos added that if he could get the Navajo Nation's support to set up a slaughterhouse on the reservation, he would jump at the opportunity. "It would be something that would benefit the Navajo Nation," he said, adding that China and Mexico are the largest consumers of horsemeat. "I'd be willing to talk to President Shelly."
As for the state legislature, representatives Sandra Jeff and Sharon Clahchischilliage, who are both enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, share Shelly's concerns about the feral horse issue on the reservation and have come out in favor of slaughtering.
Source: Navajo Times by Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2013 (S. 1459) would prohibit the hauling of horses on livestock trailers containing one level on top of the other. The bill has garnered bipartisan support in Congress, as well from the welfare, veterinary and agriculture communities.
Contact your U.S. Senator and urge them to support S.1459 in order to protect horses from being transported across the United States for any reason in a trailer having more than one level.
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Navajo Nation rounds up horses on drought-stricken reservation; those unclaimed will be sold to Mexico to be slaughtered.
Navajo Nation rangers have rounded up numerous horses on the reservation under an operation conducted as part of the tribe’s response to the continuing drought.
A natural resources law enforcement official says least 248 horses were seized through Thursday and that additional horses were seized in operations late last week. The operations were conducted in the Iyanbito, Canyon de Chelly, Pinedale, Chinle, Black Mesa, Ganado and Blue Water Lake areas, the Gallup Independent reported.
The horses seized are said to be either feral or belong to residents who lack grazing permits or have more horses than their permits allow. Grazing official Wilbur Murphy said horses unclaimed by residents will be sold to a buyer either for resale off the reservation or for transport to Mexico for slaughter for meat.
The Navajo Nation has voiced support for a plan by a Roswell company, Valley Meat Co., to begin slaughtering horses for meat. A spokesman for Navajo President Ben Shelly has said the reservation can no longer support the estimated 75,000 feral horses that are drinking wells dry and causing ecological damage to the drought-stricken range.
The Navajo Nation Council has approved $3 million in emergency funds to combat extreme drought conditions on the reservation and nearly $1.4 million in additional funds for feral horse roundups.
Leonard Butler, a tribal Natural Resources law enforcement official, said tribal chapters that approved resolutions to conduct the horse roundups in their communities will be compensated with about $20 per head.
“That’s the incentive for the chapter to pass resolution to participate in the roundup,” Butler said.
Ranger Lorenzo Lapahie said horses that are branded will be kept for three days to give owners time to reclaim the animals by showing a grazing permit and proof of ownership.
Valley Meat’s plan has sparked a national debate about whether horses are livestock or companion animals and how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country. Horses were slaughtered domestically for decades until Congress cut funding for inspections for horse plants in 2006. That funding was restored in late
Source: The Associated Press
Order could delay tomorrow’s sale of nearly 500 horses at Fallon Livestock Exchange
A federal court judge in Reno, NV has granted a coalition of wild horse advocacy and conservation groups a Temporary Restraining Order to block the sale of unbranded horses at a slaughter auction tomorrow in Fallon, Nevada. The groups sued to stop the sale of unbranded horses who were captured last weekend on public and tribal lands in northern Nevada, alleging that unbranded horses were likely federally-protected wild horses originating from the nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area.
The order throws into question tomorrow’s auction at the Fallon Livestock Exchange, where nearly 500 horses are sitting in pens awaiting their fate. The horses in question were rounded up by the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe with approval of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. In response to the lawsuit filed by the public interest firm Meyer, Gltizenstein
& Crystal with local counsel Gordon B. Cowan on behalf of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, its founding organization Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation, the Western Watersheds Project and advocate Laura Leigh, U.S.
District Court Judge Miranda M. Du found:
“Plaintiffs have shown serious questions that wild horses were improperly rounded up during the gather from August 11-13, 2013. Plaintiffs have demonstrated an immediate threat of irreparable harm if the status quo is not maintained, that is the sale of wild horses and their possible slaughter. The public interest is served when the Court maintains the status quo to
ensure wild horses are not improperly removed and auctioned for sale to potentially be slaughtered because of an agency action.”
Du's TRO prohibits the sale of all unbranded horses at tomorrow's slaughter auction until the hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, August 21, 2013.
“Judge Du has stepped in to do what the federal government refused to do: act to prevent federally protected wild horses from being sold at a slaughter auction,” said Suzanne Roy, Director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “We are grateful for this federal court decision, but remain outraged by the federal government’s complicity in this dirty operation that has sentenced hundreds of horses to horrific deaths at slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.”
“Like the nearly 170 horses that I rescued from this livestock auction three years ago, many of these horses are wild horses who were removed from federal lands. They were denied federal protection under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the judge has taken a stand for all those mares, foals, yearlings and mature stallions who are a day away from being sold to kill buyers and sent to slaughter,” said Ellie Phipps Price, AWHPC supporter and owner of the renowned Durell Vineyard in Sonoma, California. “The tribes and the U.S. government need to choose birth control for wild horses over roundup and slaughter.”
"We want to get to the bottom of this and understand how wild horses may have been compromised through stealth negotiations between the federal government and the tribe,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom. “It is the legal
responsibility of the Forest Service and the BLM to preserve and protect wild horses on our public lands. When wild horses roam outside of their designated Herd Management Areas, it should be the concern of these agencies to return them to their rangelands- not support covert horse trading deals sending wild horses to auction and slaughter.”
"I wish we could save them all," states Ginger Kathrens, noted wildlife filmmaker and Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation. "I hope this ruling sends a message to the Forest Service --business as usual is a thing of the past. I'd like to thank my caring colleagues and our our attorneys for their tireless work to save our wild horses."
Photographs of the horses show hundreds of mares and foals, along with yearlings and adults crammed into pens at the stockyard.
For more information, please see:
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, founded in 2004 by Return toFreedom, is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.
Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to over 300 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California and in Nevada where the group is planning to create a larger wild horse preserve.
The Cloud Foundation, Inc., a 501c(3) charity named for the wild stallion, Cloud, is dedicated to the preservation of wild horses and burros on public lands with special emphasis on isolated, genetically unique herds like Cloud’s in the Pryor Mountains of Montana.
Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation. The group works to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.
Laura Leigh is the founder of Wild Horse Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting America’s wild herds
from roundup, slaughter and extinction.