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Navajo Nation cancels plans for wild horse hunt
See the roundups on the range – including one that goes wrong. Meet the ranchers who deal with horses. Meet the activists who try to save them. And meet Indy, the little foal who makes everybody care a little bit more. USA TODAY NETWORK
A controversial hunt was aimed at reducing the numbers of feral horses near Teec Nos Pos, Arizona
FARMINGTON — A wild horse hunt aimed at thinning a herd in an Arizona trophy hunt area was abruptly cancelled today as opposition to the hunt grew and a protest was planned.
The tribal government's natural resource regulators last week issued a proclamation declaring the 2018 feral horse management hunt. It was designed to remove 60 horses from the Carrizo Mountains near Teec Nos Pos in northeast Arizona.
The Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources this afternoon rescinded the proclamation, according to a notice on the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife's website.
President Russell Begaye said in an emailed statement that the hunt will be postponed and the proclamation was rescinded to allow for public input and education.
Protest was planned
Tens of thousands of feral horses roam Navajo Nation lands — and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking ways to reduce that population.
Following the release of the hunt proclamation horse advocates, including members of the Facebook group Indigenous Horse Nation Protector Alliance, organized a rally for Friday morning 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.
Hunt should go before tribal leadership
In an email statement, Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates said 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If the hunt had not been rescinded, hunters accompanied by wildlife conservation officers would have been able to kill non-branded horses that were at least two years old.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 not have been permitted to kill mares that have foals with them.
Begaye said the Carrizo Mountains near Teec Nos Pos in northeast Arizona has been critically impacted by the feral horses. He said the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife's proclamation specifically targeted the Carrizo Mountains.
The proclamation called for removing up to 60 horses over a six-day span from the Carrizo Mountains.
Tom said the Corrizo Mountains is one of the trophy hunt areas of the reservation. She said the department was concerned about the impacts of the horses on the habitat, especially about the impact on mule deer.
She said the severe drought in the region will increase competition for food and water.
"We're looking at a very severe outlook for lack of precipitation through July this year," she said.
Tom said the drought was one reason the department hoped to remove horses to reduce the stress on the landscape and wildlife.
A problem that can't be ignored
With the hunt being called off, Tom said the department is looking at other ways to reduce the population. She said a roundup is one possibility, but rounding up the horses could be hard in the mountainous terrain.
"The problem of feral horses on the Navajo Nation is one that cannot be ignored," Begaye said. "According to a 2016 study conducted by the Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department, there are more than 38,000 feral horses on the Navajo Nation. These numbers are tremendous when considering the amount of overgrazing that exists and the impact it has on the livestock and wildlife in the various ecosystems on the Nation. It's estimated that one horse consumes approximately 32 pounds of forage and 10 gallons of water per day to sustain its life."
The estimated number on Navajo Nation exceeds the estimated populations of feral horses on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in surrounding states. The BLM estimates there are about 59,500 feral horses roaming on federal lands in 10 western states. The majority of those horses — nearly 35,000 — are in Nevada. New Mexico has approximately 168 feral horses on lands managed by the BLM and Arizona has about 364, according to the BLM. Utah has an estimated 5,215 feral horses on BLM-managed land and Colorado has an estimated 1,693.
Begaye said the tribe's division of natural resources documented "extensive damage to the land, wildlife habitat, vegetation and other natural resources by the overpopulation of feral horses on the landscape."
He encouraged Navajo chapters to pass resolutions to address feral horse management in their regions. Begaye said the division of natural resources will implement a multi-pronged 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.
Tom said the horse management strategy includes methods like regional livestock auctions on the reservation and increased education.
"I compare our horse problem to what we're dealing with with our dogs and cats," she said.
She said responsible horse ownership will help cut down on the population.
Tom said the communities in Navajo Nation have shown interest in finding ways to reduce the populations, especially in light of drought conditions.
"We're seeing a lot of very difficult situations with horses trying to get to water," she said.
When reached by phone Monday, chapter president Duane "Chili" Yazzie said the Shiprock supports humane methods for reducing the population.
Feral horses roam the northern part of the chapter in an area called Palmer Mesa and travel to the river to drink, Yazzie said. He said this places the horses in competition with livestock for resources. He said the chapter favors luring horses into corrals with hay and water and then closing the gate behind the horses. The horses could be trained by Shiprock residents and adopted out. Yazzie said the sick and injured horses would be humanely euthanized.
Yazzie does not know how the chapter would react to the plan for the horse hunt, but he said it was controversial.
“There is considerable objection to this method of dealing with the horse population,” Yazzie said.
The Navajo Nation has been searching for a way to reduce the population of feral equines for years. In 2013, Navajo Nation ended a practice of rounding up feral horses and selling them to be shipped to Mexico for slaughter.
Patricia Irick, who trains wild horses at the Largo Canyon rescue Mustang Camp, said the hunt is a more humane method of population than shipping them to Mexico.
“Being hauled to Mexico is much more stressful,” Irick said.
She said while horse advocates are concerned about hunts, ultimately Navajo Nation will have to decide for itself how to manage the herds.
“It’s their culture,” she said. “They have to decide for themselves what they want to do.”
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.