In an effort to control the population of unbranded free-roaming horses competing for resources on tribal lands, the Navajo Nation announced it would consider allowing permitted hunters to harvest the animals. But, according to Gloria Tom, Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife (NNDFW) director, hunting is just one strategy the nation is investigating to manage the herds.
Tom said an independent 2016 survey underwritten by a Bureau of Indian Affairs grant revealed that about 48,000 feral horses reside on the nation’s 18 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Those horses compete with elk and deer for dwindling rangeland resources, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of overpopulation issues with horses,” Tom said. “Forage is an issue, and water is always a concern.”
Previously the nation used gathers to help stem herd growth, but the tactic was not highly successful, Tom said. Now the NNDFW has established a team charged with studying a multi-faceted approach to keeping the number of feral horses in check.
“We’re looking at direct sales, adoptions that include the vetting of prospective adopters, and an outreach and education program for our young people,” Tom said. “The hunt is just one thing we’re considering.”
She said such a hunt would involve harvesting horses for use according to tribal custom.
“In the past we ate horses, we used their meat for medicinal purposes, and we used their hides,” Tom said.
The task force is also examining how an outreach program aimed at teaching young people about the Navajo horse culture can help prevent unbranded horses from being turned out into the feral herd.
“We used horses for herding and riding, but the young people don’t know the horse’s role in our culture,” Tom said. “This would work because … our young people are interested in it.”
While the task force ponders its options, at least one wild horse advocacy group is offering to train selected tribal members to inoculate feral mares with immunocontraceptive porcine zona pellucida. Tom said the nation is considering the assistance, so long as financial assistance is also available.
“We are open to that; it has been proposed in the past, but past the suggestion did not come with funding.,” Tom said. “We need to have the funding, otherwise it’s a lot for the nation’s government to bear.”
Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, said financial assistance could be available.
“We are working with our coalition partner the American Wild Horse Campaign and others such as the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Animal Welfare Institute to come up with a plan to help the Navajo Nation manage its wild horse humanely,” Netherlands said.
Meanwhile, Tom believes the nation can effectively manage its feral horses over the long term.
“Our herds are smaller than those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and we have the interest of our young people,” Tom said. “We can do it.”
Originally posted by The Horse