FARMINGTON — To address the issue of feral horses in the Northern Agency, the Shiprock Chapter plans to propose an alternative to the roundups taking place on the Navajo Nation.

The alternative plan has yet to be determined. The Shiprock Chapter Feral Horse Roundup Subcommittee will discuss it at a meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the chapter house.

After reading reports about how roundups are being conducted by the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture, Shiprock will withdraw from the roundups scheduled this month for the Northern Agency, said Duane "Chili" Yazzie, the chapter's president.

Shiprock is scheduled for a roundup Sept. 12 to 14.

The chapter declared a drought emergency July 21, followed by a July 28 resolution authorizing a roundup and appointing the feral horse roundup subcommittee to work with the tribe in executing the collection.

"Subsequent to that, we're reading all these reports of how the roundups are being done, and I'm sure we hear more bad reports than not," Yazzie said.

Some reports center on personnel entering corrals and taking horses that have brands, he said.

Other concerns were raised after the Nohaaka Dine, a group of elderly and medicine people from the Black Mesa region in Arizona, opposed the roundups based on the cultural significance of horses.

"That to me really epitomizes the concern in terms of the cultural perspective on horses and their objection to the way Navajo Nation is doing the roundups really resonate with us here," Yazzie said, adding that a small number of feral horses have been captured and all-terrain vehicles are being used to track the animals.

Robert Hayes, the chapter's grazing official, said there are 300 to 400 feral horses in the Shiprock area, and they tend to move between the Colorado state line and the San Juan River.

Feral horses are seen off of Indian Service Route 5091 on Friday in Shiprock.
Feral horses are seen off of Indian Service Route 5091 on Friday in Shiprock. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

"It's become an issue because they are drinking water from water holes for cattle," Hayes said.

He added that feral horses overgraze the limited vegetation available on the arid land.

Horse adoption and rehabilitation are possible alternatives that both Yazzie and Hayes mentioned.

Yazzie said that Shiprock would also like to meet with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council to see if they would be interested in partnering with the chapter to address the problem.

In June, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe conducted a roundup.

"We gathered about 350 horses on our tribal lands," said tribal council secretary Manuel Heart.

The roundup was conducted through a contract with a Utah-based feral horse roundup company and assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, he said.

"We don't know what happened to them," Heart said, explaining that the company determined the feral horses' outcome.

Although it is sad to see feral horses sent to the slaughterhouse, it is better than watching them starve, he said.

In Gadii'ahi-To'koi Chapter, feral horses are breaking into fields and storage buildings that houses feed, grazing official Lucinda Lee said.

"It's problematic," she said.

Gadii'ahi-To'koi is scheduled for a roundup Tuesday to Wednesday.

The tribe's Agriculture Department started the feral horse roundups after the Navajo Nation Council and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly approved the appropriation of $1.3 million in supplemental funding from the tribe's Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.

The roundups will continue until the fiscal year 2013 budget ends Sept. 30.

Tribal lawmakers also appropriated $202,761 from the UUFB to the Department of Resource Enforcement for livestock roundups.

Horses, donkeys and mules that have been captured during the roundups are housed in a compound in Blackhat, which is located east of Window Rock.

Telephone calls to the agricultural department to receive more information about the animals were not returned by press time.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.