FORT MCDERMITT SHOSHONE PAIUTE TRIBE AND USDA FOREST SERVICE TO BEGIN 2ND COOPERATIVE DOMESTIC HORSE REMOVAL
The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will begin to remove tribal members’ privately-owned horses from the Santa Rose Ranger District and return them to their rightful owners. This is the second in a series of operations and could take up to eight days with at least 800 horses expected to be removed.
“Over the past 30 years, the number of unauthorized tribally-owned horses grazing on tribal and public lands increased to more than 2,500 horses,” said Santa Rosa District Ranger Joe Garrotto. “These horses are competing for forage with native wildlife and authorized livestock, overgrazing, harming ecosystems, and damaging fences and stock-watering facilities.”
Tribal Chairman Tildon Smart agrees with the Forest Service about these horses being a major concern. “They are causing safety issues for people driving on public and tribal lands and on U.S. Route 95,” Chairman Smart said. “They are also damaging important tribal natural and cultural resources.”
The removal operations will take place about 75 miles north of Winnemucca, Nevada, on the northern portion of the Santa Rosa Ranger District and adjacent tribal lands. The horses being removed from federally-managed public lands are tribally-owned domestic horses, and are not protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Safeguards have been built into the removal operations plan to ensure that wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Owyhee Herd Management Area are not impacted. No wild horses were gathered in a previous removal efforts.
“The Forest Service will retain control of gathered horses until they are delivered to the tribal holding facility, where they will be inspected by a team of Tribal and Nevada State Brand Inspectors and Forest Service Wild Horse Specialists,” said Garrotto. “Forest Service personnel will also be on hand to record the ownership of horses to help with future management.”
Chairman Smart explained that once the horses are removed from federally-managed public lands, tribal members will decide whether to sell or keep their horses and constrain them from further unauthorized grazing. The Tribe is responsible for returning the horses to their owners or arrangement of sale.
“With the help of the Forest Service, we were able to remove more than 500 horses off National Forest System land in December 2018,” added Chairman Smart. “After a recent helicopter survey, we estimate that there are still around 2,000 tribal horses that need to be removed.”
Public viewing is extremely limited since most of the activities will occur on tribal lands. There will be opportunities to view limited helicopter operations on National Forest System (NFS) lands on or around Aug. 7, 2019 provided that it does not jeopardize the safety of the animals, staff or observers, and that it does not disrupt removal operations. There will be no public access to tribal lands
Please contact Public Affairs Staff Officer Erica Hupp at 775-771-4777 prior to the desired viewing date to be added to the attendee list and to receive specific instructions on meeting locations and times. The Forest Service will escort the public to the observation site, which will be difficult to access without a high-clearance four wheel drive vehicle.
The Navajo Nation has canceled a planned wild horse hunt aimed at thinning a herd in an Arizona area after opponents of the hunt organized a protest against it.
The tribe’s Division of Natural Resources rescinded on Monday a proclamation declaring the 2018 feral horse management hunt designed to remove 60 horses from the Carrizo Mountains in northeastern Arizona, according to a notice on the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement that the hunt will be postponed and the proclamation was rescinded to allow for public input and education, the Farmington Daily Times reported .
There are more than 38,000 feral horses on Navajo Nation land, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department. Horse advocates, including members of the Facebook group Indigenous Horse Nation Protector Alliance, organized a rally for Friday in Window Rock, Arizona, to protest the hunt.
Gloria Tom, the director of Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the public outcry led to the cancellation.
Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in a statement that his office was not aware that the executive branch had made a decision to issue permits for hunting feral horses.
“As Navajo people, we are taught to respect all life forms and that includes horses,” Bates said. “Considering the cultural and historical factors and concerns over water shortages and overgrazing — this is certainly an issue that should have been brought before Navajo leadership and medicine people to discuss and consider.”
If the hunt had not been rescinded, hunters accompanied by wildlife conservation officers would have been able to kill non-branded horses that were at least two years old. Hunters would have been prohibited from killing mares with foals.
The proclamation called for removing up to 60 horses over a six-day period.
Begaye urged Navajo chapters to pass resolutions to address feral horse management in their regions. Begaye said the division of natural resources will put in place a horse management strategy.
“Implementation of this plan is required to ensure a sustainable future while preserving the land and natural resources that sustain Navajo tradition and culture,” Begaye said.
Source: The Associated Press
A synopsis of a presentation to veterinarians during The American Mustang session at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Feral tribal horses walk the streets within the Navajo Nation. They’re outside restaurants. In people’s yards. There are just too many horses, and the Navajo government is working to change that. It started in 2013 with community roundups and a veterinary management program.
Scott Bender, DVM, works as tribal veterinarian with the Navajo Nation Veterinary Program and is a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service consulting veterinarian. At the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bender shared the challenges faced when managing feral horses within the Navajo Nation and results of tribal equine population management efforts.
The Navajo Nation is located in the southwestern United States, with territory spanning Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The reservation comprises 18 million acres and, said Bender, an estimated 75,000 to 96,000 horses.
The tribe permits 12,000 livestock owners, with the majority of permit holders having one to five privately owned horses.
Under tribal law, all unbranded horses within the Navajo Nation are tribal property, Bender explained. That leaves the tribe with a lot of horses.
The Navajo traditionally view horses as sport, working, and food animals. “The horse is sacred to the Navajo, but that doesn't mean we don't eat them," Bender explained. The Navajo believe horsemeat has medicinal, healing properties and is useful as a “winter” meat, he said, explaining that “horsemeat, by tradition, can only be eaten in the winter between October and April—end of thunder and not after ‘first thunder.’”
Initially and into the early 20th Century, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs managed tribal livestock, but management has slowly transitioned to the sovereign nation government, Bender said. This happened partly because of U.S. government-approved reduction of livestock in the 1930s and the euthanasia and burial of more than 500 horses by federal authorizes following a dourine outbreak at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is located in northeastern Arizona within the Navajo Nation boundaries. “This ‘waste of resources’ has left a negative indelible mark on the attitude of Navajo livestock owners toward the U.S. government,” Bender said.
To the Navajo, unused horsemeat is a wasted resource that the creator gave the people, he clarified.
With this in mind, surplus Navajo horses had historically been sold off-reservation to slaughter as a way to manage populations and produce income. When U.S. equine slaughter plants closed in 2007, the tribal horses lost 95% of their value and the surplus feral horses were left to breed without human controls, Bender said. “The current (tribal) horse issue is a direct result of the elimination of an outlet for surplus horses,” he added.
As herds grew, damage to rangelands increased, as did horse-caused human injuries. “Horses in right-of-ways caused car wrecks, human injuries, and even deaths,” Bender said. These issues led tribal communities to request that the Navajo National Department of Agriculture start its equine population management program in 2013, which involved roundups and veterinary services, including free:
While the initial fertility vaccination was effective, Bender described owner booster rates of horses as “dismal,” despite the program’s outreach and communications efforts promoting boosters. The program’s leadership is now investigating anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccine (know more commonly as anti-GnRH or GonaCon) use as a longer-activing and single-dose alternative to PZP.
In 2013 the Navajo Nation local communities, with the help of the Navajo Nation Departments of Agriculture and Resource Enforcement, rounded up more than 8,900 horses. Permitted owners claimed approximately 250 horses, with the tribe selling the rest with the requirement that they could not be returned to the Navajo Nation.
The veterinary program’s goal was to castrate 1,000 male horses and vaccinate 1,500 mares against fertility by the end of 2014. To date, more than 700 horses have been castrated or vaccinated with PZP for fertility control. Bender said members of communities where horse removals took place have reported improved forage conditions in spite of the continuing 14 years of drought in the southwestern United States and Navajo Nation.
Source: The Horse
The third wild horse ecosanctuary in the United States for off-range care of excess wild horses and burros will be located seven miles north of Lander, the Bureau of Land Management announced today. The new ecosanctuary would be operated on the 900-acre Double D Ranch, located seven miles north of Lander and would initially hold up to 100 horses, with the first horses arriving as early as the spring of 2015. The ranch is within the Wind River Indian Reservation.The ranch is located to the east of U.S. Highway 287 and east and south the Blue Sky Highway (WYO 132) between Plunkett Road and the Ethete intersection.
The BLM’s Lander Field Office issued a Decision Record, resulting from an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, that addresses comments from the public and adjacent landowners. The Environmental Assessment can be accessed at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/lfo/ecosanctuary.html. The Decision Record, which finds no significant environmental impacts from the ecosanctuary, initiates a 30-day appeal period during which the public may express comments.
The ecosanctuary would be run by Dwayne and Denise Oldham, who own and lease portions of the Double D Ranch. It would be the second BLM-private ecosanctuary to be located in Wyoming; a 290-horse ranch is already operated by Richard and Jana Wilson on the 4,000-acre Deerwood Ranch near Centennial, Wyoming. A third ecosanctuary, known as the Mowdy Ranch, operated by Clay and Kit Mowdy, holds 153 horses on 1,280 acres and is located 12 miles northeast of Coalgate, Oklahoma, in the southeastern part of the state.
“This advances our efforts to improve the BLM’s management of and care for America’s wild horses and burros,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “Although the challenges facing our Wild Horse and Burro Program remain formidable, every step forward moves us closer to our goal of more effective and efficient stewardship of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range.”
“The Lander Field Office has worked closely with the Oldhams to ensure that proper care will be provided for the wild horses and to address the concerns of neighboring landowners,” said BLM Lander Field Manager Rick Vander Voet. “We look forward to a long, successful partnership with the Double D Ranch.”
The wild horse ecosanctuaries, which must be publicly accessible with a potential for ecotourism, help the BLM feed and care for excess wild horses that have been removed from overpopulated herds roaming Western public rangelands. The BLM enters in partnership agreements with the ecosanctuary operators, who are reimbursed at a funding level comparable to what the agency pays ranchers to care for wild horses on long-term pastures in the Midwest. The partnership agreement requires that any profits from tourism activities at the ecosanctuary must be used to defray operating costs, thus saving taxpayer dollars.
Long-term plans under the BLM-Double D partnership agreement include a learning/visitor information center, tours, gift shop, and campground. The Double D Ranch plans to invite the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation to partner in running the learning center, which will interpret Native American culture and the historic role of the horse. The Wind River Visitors Council, Lander Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Lander support the ecosanctuary and would help promote public visitation to it.
The BLM estimates that 49,209 wild horses and burros are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, based on the latest data available, compiled as of March 1, 2014. Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, the BLM, as part of its management of public rangeland resources, must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control herd sizes.
The estimated current free-roaming population exceeds by more than 22,500 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The maximum appropriate management level (AML) is approximately 26,684.
Off the range, as of November 2014, there were 48,447 other wild horses and burros fed and cared for at short-term corrals and long-term pastures, which compares to the BLM’s total holding capacity of 50,153. All wild horses and burros in holding, like those roaming Western public rangelands, are protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, as amended.
Source: County 10
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart introduces bill in attempt to give States & Indian Tribes the Ability to Manage Wild Horses and Burros.
June 10, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would give states and Indian Tribes the option to take over the management of wild horses and burros. The Wild Horse Oversight Act of 2014 would preserve all protections under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and simply allow states to implement horse and burro management plans that address the specific needs of their own state.
“The federal government has never been able to properly manage the horses and burros in the west,” Stewart said. “Every state faces different challenges, which is why it’s important that they have the ability to manage their own wildlife.”
In the 43 years that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act has been in place, the ranges have been overused, pushing cattle off the ranges and leading to the destruction of important habitat for native species.
“States and tribes already successfully manage large quantities of wildlife within their borders,” Stewart said. “If horses and burros were under that same jurisdiction, I’m confident that new ideas and opportunities would be developed to manage the herds more successfully than the federal government.”
This bill would allow states to form cooperative agreements to manage herds that cross over borders, and the federal government would continue to inventory the horses and burros to ensure that the population numbers as prescribed by the 1971 Act are maintained.
“In an era of fiscal crisis, the federal government just doesn’t have the money to manage these programs.”
For the full text of the bill, click here.
The Wild Horse Oversight Act of 2014:
A state district judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday night against a horse-slaughter plant in New Mexico.It was another setback, perhaps a fatal one, for Valley Meat Co., which for two years has been the target of lawsuits and heavy public opposition. The company wants to kill horses and sell the meat in foreign markets.
Judge Matthew Wilson of Santa Fe granted the injunction against the company. He accepted state Attorney General Gary King’s arguments that Valley Meat would harm the environment and contaminate the food chain.
Wilson’s ruling came after a confusing afternoon, in which he first issued an order saying he would hold a hearing on whether he should remove himself from the case because of challenges to his impartiality.
Lawyers for the slaughterhouse had filed an emergency motion asking Wilson to recuse himself. They said the judge had a conflict of interest that he failed to disclose, and that his Facebook page showed evidence of bias against Valley Meat Co.
Blair Dunn, a lawyer for Valley Meat Co., said Wilson had ties to King’s office but never mentioned them when hearing King’s lawsuit against the company. “We learned [Friday] that Judge Wilson up until 2010 worked as a special assistant attorney general assigned to the New Mexico Human Services Department. It was inappropriate that he failed to disclose that,” Dunn said.
A few hours after Wilson said he would hold a recusal hearing on whether he should be on the case, he ruled against the slaughterhouse and for the attorney general.
Dunn said his next move would be to ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to remove Wilson from the case. “We asked him nicely to recuse himself, but he’s never going to do it,” Dunn said. “The only remedy in this kind of situation is to go to the Supreme Court.”
Wilson, a Democrat, was appointed to the District Court bench in October by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The high-profile horse-slaughter lawsuit has been his most publicized case during his three months as a judge. On Wilson’s Facebook page, which promotes his campaign for election to the bench, various public comments against Valley Meat Co. have been posted in the last two weeks. Dunn said a judge should not have allowed comments from the public on cases he is hearing.
Wilson could not be reached about his Facebook page or Dunn’s allegations.One posting on Wilson’s Facebook page was from a woman in Pennsylvania. It said: “Implore you to not allow the needless slaughter of horses. PLS turn this down. It is disgusting and inhumane.”
In granting the preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co., Wilson accepted all the arguments made by King’s legal team. Wilson said that, unless he ruled against the slaughterhouse, “the state and its residents will suffer irreparable injury as a result of Valley Meat’s imminent, self-declared violations” of the water-quality and food acts.
Valley Meat is not operating. But King’s lawyers argued that the company intended to begin slaughtering horses even without a state-required sewage discharge system. Dunn said in hearings before Wilson that the attorney general’s claims were not true.
Dunn said Valley Meat’s owner, Rick De Los Santos, would comply with all state and federal requirements, including sewage discharge. In fact, Dunn said, before King filed his lawsuit, the company was working with the state Environment Department to obtain a discharge permit or an acceptable pump-and-haul system.
Dunn said King’s lawsuit should have been thrown out by Wilson because the case was being reviewed administratively by the Environment Department. Moreover, Dunn argued that Wilson’s court had no jurisdiction over meat inspections or water-quality complaints.
No matter what happens in the state courts, Valley Meat and proposed horse-slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri may never be able to open. Congress has eliminated money from the federal budget for horse-meat inspectors. A similar budgetary maneuver in 2007 effectively closed U.S. horse-slaughter plants.
De Los Santos said the congressional cuts did not end horse slaughter. Rather, he said, American horses were simply exported to border countries and killed there. About 158,000 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada in 2012, mostly to slaughterhouses. De Los Santos said the export system meant horses live in pain and filth during transport to distant slaughterhouses.
Proponents of U.S. horse slaughter have included the Yakama tribe in Washington state. Its lawyer, John Boyd of Albuquerque, has argued that an explosion of wild horses was wrecking the environment and reducing elk and deer populations on tribal lands.
One of King’s main arguments against Valley Meat Co. was that horse meat could be tainted with drugs. King said New Mexico’s reputation would suffer globally if the state were the source of an unsafe food product.
Source: Santa Fe New Mexican by Milan Simonich
Click Here to read Judge Matthew's 1/17/14 Ruling [PDF]
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