Navajo Nation Suspends Horse Round-ups And Forfeits Support For Horse Slaughtering And Horse Slaughtering Facilities
FARMINGTON, N.M. – Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have reached an agreement in principle in which the Navajo Nation would suspend horse round ups making way to halting the sale of Navajo horses to horse processing plants. The two leaders reached the agreement in a meeting over the weekend.
“We have met with Gov. Richardson and we have come to an agreement to find long term solutions to manage our feral horse issue on the Navajo Nation. We will suspend horse round ups and forfeit support for horse slaughtering and horse slaughtering facilities. We have maintained an all of the above approach to managing our horse population and our land. This approach to manage our resources has included the use of horse round ups and other humane methods with our goal being strengthening our balance between livestock and the land. I am thankful for the input we have received from various groups from within the
Navajo Nation and throughout the United States. We are now using that input in formulating innovative initiatives to address this issue. I have always advocated for strong long-term solutions and partnerships. I believe the MOU will serve as a gateway for more resources to assist our local communities,” President Shelly said.
Gov. Richardson represents the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, which he founded with actor, director and
conservationist Robert Redford. The foundation is working to stop the slaughter of horses, including actively fighting efforts to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the United States. The foundation is committed to finding humane alternatives to horse slaughter to deal with the nation’s wild horse population and is working with advocacy groups such as Return to Freedom headed by world-renowned horse advocate Neda DeMayo.
“I commend President Shelly for calling for an immediate end to horse roundups and for making it clear that moving
forward the Navajo Nation will not support horse slaughter or the return of horse slaughter facilities,” Governor Richardson said. “This is exactly the outcome horse advocates, such as myself, had hoped for.”
The two leaders agreed to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that would suspend horse round ups on the Navajo Nation while the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife and other horse advocacy groups, including Animal Protection of New Mexico, work with the Navajo Nation to develop and implement alternative policies to manage feral horse populations. Possible solutions that will be explored include equine birth control, adoption, land management and public education.
“I am interested in long-term solutions humane to manage our horse populations. Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us. I am thankful we can partner with agencies that have resources to help us find real long-term solutions,” President Shelly said.
President Shelly added that the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources and the Navajo Department of Agriculture will cooperate with Gov. Richardson and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife.
“I look forward to getting to work partnering with President Shelly and the Navajo Nation to help find and develop policies that are not only humane, but offer long-term solutions to managing the Navajo Nation’s horse population,” Governor Richardson added. “I hope that federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture, as well as horse advocacy groups will also support our efforts with funding.
The MOU is expected to be signed within two weeks.
Under pressure by animal welfare groups and many of his own people, the president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, has reversed his stance on horse slaughtering, saying he will no longer support it and will order the temporary suspension of the roundups of feral horses on the reservation.
The agreement, brokered by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday. One of its key provisions is to pressure the federal government to do more to help the Navajos handle the tens of thousands of horses that roam freely on their land. Mr. Shelly has estimated that feral horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range.
“I am interested in long-term humane solutions to manage our horse populations,” Mr. Shelly said. “Our land is precious to the
Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us.”
Mr. Shelly’s recalibrated position is sure to strengthen the arguments against horse slaughter in the nation, just as a legal fight to block the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri reaches its final stages. It could also smooth relations between his administration and tribal elders in some of the Navajo Nation’s largest chapters, who have stood steadfastly against the roundups even as Mr. Shelly embraced them in August as the best available option, given the tribe’s limited resources, to keep its feral horse population under control.
At the time, his stance put the country’s largest federally recognized tribe in a collision course with Mr. Richardson and the
actor Robert Redford, who had justified joining a lawsuit against horse slaughtering filed by animal-rights groups by saying they were “standing with Native American leaders.”
In a unanimous vote last month, the Navajo Nation chapter in Shiprock, N.M., banned horse roundups in its territory. The
chapter’s president, Duane Yazzie, said members were concerned about the abandoned colts and the sale of the horses to meat plants in Mexico, where slaughter is legal. On Saturday, several of the chapter’s members protested as Mr. Shelly took part in a parade at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.
Mr. Shelly and Mr. Richardson met in Farmington, N.M., just outside Navajo lands, shortly after the parade to complete the agreement. It charges several animal welfare groups — including Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, founded by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Redford — with developing alternative policies. One option is rounding up the horses and putting them up for adoption; another is dispensing contraceptives.
“This is a huge event,” Mr. Richardson said. “One of the most important and largest tribes in the country is now on the record against horse slaughtering, and that should be a major factor both in Congress and in the courts.”
All along, Mr. Shelly had spoken about the “delicate balance,” as he put it, between the horses’ significance to the Navajos and the cost of repairing the damage caused by feral horses on the reservation, which covers roughly 27,500 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajos estimate there are 75,000 feral horses roaming the reservation, an estimate based on aerial observations, a method they concede is unreliable. One of the points of the agreement is to find a way to take an accurate count.
During a meeting in Washington last month, Mr. Shelly told several animal welfare groups that the federal government needed to “live up to its responsibilities,” according to his spokesman, Erny Zah, and help the Navajos manage the feral horses. It was not until the agreement with Mr. Richardson, however, that he made his new stance on horse slaughtering official.
The Humane Society of the United States and other groups sued the United States Department of Agriculture in July to keep horse slaughter plants from opening in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, arguing that the agency had failed to carry out all of the environmental checks, and asked the courts to block its inspectors from working there. The owners of the plant in Iowa have since scrapped their plans to slaughter horses and turned their focus to cattle.
In August, Judge M. Christina Armijo of United States District Court in Albuquerque halted the inspections until she makes her final ruling on the case, which is expected by the end of the month.
Source: New York Times by Fernanda Santos
>>> Click Here for Press Release from Navajo Nation
ARLINGTON, Va. —Speaking before the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly addressed the growing problem of feral horses on the Navajo Nation. This meeting discussed how the advisory board provides recommendations to the BLM as it carries out its responsibilities under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The law mandates the protection, management and control of these free-roaming animals in a manner that ensures healthy herds at levels consistent with the land’s capacity to support them.
In his remarks, President Shelly underscored the financial burden feral horses present and the increasing drain on the Navajo Nation’s finances and natural resources, and risks damaging valuable trust assets. The Navajo Nation is currently spending more than $200,000 a year to address the damage these horses cause. The Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture estimates the feral horse population at 75,000 and growing.
“The potential damage and cost of addressing this problem coupled with the suffering the animals experience has brought the Navajo Nation to ask you to find a solution to feral horses. These horses are not the iconic wild horses that many think symbolize the West. These feral horses are once domesticated animals that have been set free by owners who can no longer afford their upkeep,” President Shelly added.
In his discussions with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society and the American Wild Horse Sanctuary, President Shelly expressed his concern as a horse owner about the suffering that these animals are experiencing. “Horses are sacred and special to the Navajo people and have had a central place in Navajo culture going back to our creation stories. I hate to see horses in pain; we need to do something about this needless suffering. The federal government must to live up to its responsibilities,” President Shelly said.
Feral horses are one of the biggest concerns facing Navajo communities. Overpopulation contributes to rangeland depletion, water source damage through feces and urine contamination, death and property destruction due to highway accidents, competition for natural resources used by domestic livestock and people, pain and suffering of feral horses due to starvation, dehydration and predation.
Source: Navajo Division of Natural Resources
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
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
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