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.