Farmington — The Navajo Nation is partnering with a foundation co-created by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to address the feral horse population on the reservation.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly will sign an agreement with the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife to develop a comprehensive and humane program to manage the feral horse population.
Tribal officials have said feral horses have contributed to overgrazing the land and drinking water people use for daily living and domestic livestock.
The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife was formed by Richardson and actor Robert Redford last year to fight the effort to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the United States, including the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell.
"This historic agreement is a great first step in our efforts to not only protect these horses, but to find humane and long-term solutions that are in the best interest of the Navajo people and their land," Richardson said in a press release from the foundation.
According to the agreement, the tribe and its Division of Natural Resources will work with the foundation and other horse advocacy groups to develop and implement alternative policies to manage the feral horse population.
"Working together to resolve challenges is our approach as we work with Gov. Richardson and his foundation. They will give us funding and find more resources to reverse the population of feral horses," Shelly said in a statement from his office.
Last October, Shelly and Richardson met in Farmington to form the agreement.
The two men have initialed the agreement, which allows work to begin, and there are plans to hold a formal signing ceremony with Shelly, Richardson and Redford this summer in Window Rock, Ariz.
Redford will not be available until that time because he is filming a movie, according to the press release from Shelly's office.
Under the agreement, the foundation will make efforts to fundraise and provide or secure resources for the tribe to use for implementation of the management program.
The foundation will work with state and federal governments, conservation groups and others to identify and secure humane solutions to control the feral horse population.
Efforts by the foundation will respect Navajo law and customs and the foundation will be respectful and considerate of tribal lands, in addition to providing notice when entering tribal lands to plan or implement the program, according to the agreement.
As for the tribe, it agrees to make reasonable efforts to work with buyers who offer humane alternatives for feral horses, rather than sending them to slaughterhouses.
Under the agreement, once "sufficient" funds are secured for the tribe's humane equine program and the feral horse population has been "significantly controlled" to a reasonable number, the tribe will end the transportation of horses to slaughterhouses.
The foundation's spokeswoman, Alarie Ray-Garcia, said the amount of funding that needs to be collected and the population number for the feral horses will be determined once the foundation, its resource partners and tribal representatives meet and agree on those amounts.
"Of course, the foundation and its partners would love to see an immediate cease of transport to slaughter facilities," Ray-Garcia said.
Last July, the Navajo Nation Council approved allocating $1.3 million to the tribe's Department of Agriculture and $202,761 to the Department of Resource Enforcement for feral horse round ups.
Shelly's spokesman, Rick Abasta, said there are no feral horse round ups taking place at this time, and the Department of Agriculture is waiting for the carryover of funding from last year's allocation.
"There are still 45 chapters on the waiting list from last year that are requesting horse round ups," he said.
As for the horses that are collected from the round ups, Abasta said they are either returned to their rightful owners if proof of ownership can be provided or they are placed for adoption or sold.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.