Shelly suspends feral horse roundups

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 10, 2013

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Amid pressure from animal advocacy groups and under the specter of the 2014 tribal election, President Ben Shelly has suspended feral horse roundups and reversed his decision on selling horses to slaughter.

Early in the summer, Shelly publicly supported the idea of a reservation-wide feral horse roundup from a land management perspective. He even signed a $1.4 million supplemental appropriation for the Navajo Department of Agriculture to conduct round-ups in chapters supporting the effort, and $202,761 to the Department of Resource Enforcement to inspect and process the horses for selling.

The suspension of the reservation-wide feral horse roundups comes after Shelly met with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson last week in Farmington to discuss the tribe's feral horse issue. The discussion between both parties resulted in a memorandum of understanding, according to a Tuesday press release from Erny Zah, spokesman for Shelly.

In the new release, Shelly said the MOU with Richardson would result in finding long-term solutions to manage the feral horses on the reservation -- estimated to be about 75,000, according to the Navajo Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Resource Enforcement have rounded up approximately 1,600 feral horses, with most being sold to buyers who in turn sell them to a meat-packing plant in Mexico.

"We will suspend horse round ups and forfeit support for horse slaughtering and horse slaughtering facilities," Shelly said.

Shelly added that he has always advocated for long-term solutions and partnerships, and that the MOU with Richardson and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife will serve as a gateway for more resources to assist local communities.

The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, which Richardson cofounded with actor, director and conservationist Robert Redford, was established over the summer to prevent the operation of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S, including Roswell, N.M.-based Valley Meats Company's proposed horse slaughter operation.

According to the mission of the foundation, it is committed to finding humane alternatives to horse slaughter as a way to deal with the nation's wild horse population, and is working with advocacy groups such as Return to Freedom. World-renowned horse advocate Neda DeMayo organizes the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, Calif.

In the statement issued by Zah, in which Richardson is quoted, the former governor commended Shelly for his decision.

"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," Richardson said.

Once signed, some possible solutions the MOU calls for include equine birth control, adoption, land management and public education. Tribal officials from the Veterinary and Livestock Program have already conducted equine birth control this past summer in chapters where roundups have occurred, gelding stallions and injecting mares with a birth control vaccine. However the procedures were offered to horse owners on a voluntary basis, not used on feral horses.

The MOU also requests the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture to cooperate with 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," Richardson said.

The MOU, said Zah, is expected to be signed within two weeks.

In an email sent to the Navajo Times on Wednesday, Cait Larratt Smith, of Save The Wild Mustang, said, "The news of President Ben Shelly's reversal on roundups is so heartening."

Meanwhile, Shiprock Chapter's localized horse round up, which the chapter considers a more humane alternative than the ones organized by the tribal agriculture department, is still scheduled to occur, according to chapter president Duane Yazzie.

The chapter president said Shelly's public announcement to halt the reservation-wide roundups doesn't affect his chapter.

"It doesn't have an impact on us because we already determined how we would conduct our horse roundup," Yazzie said.

The chapter, led by its Horse Roundup Feral Horse Subcommittee, plans to utilize humane methods such as entrapment to capture the estimated 300-400 feral horses that grazing officer Robert Hayes says reside within the chapter boundaries.

The chapter had passed a resolution last month rescinding its involvement in the reservation-wide roundups and opted for a localized one that will keep the use of all-terrain vehicles at a minimum.

Since the feral horses have feed and water from the recent monsoon season, the chapter doesn't plan on scheduling their round up until the winter, when the horses "start running out of grass."

Yazzie, however, chided Shelly for listening to personalities like Richardson and Redford rather than his own people.

"It had to take personalities like Bill Richardson and Robert Redford to change his mind," Yazzie said, adding, "It's discouraging that he didn't listen to some of his people, including the elders and traditionalists. He didn't listen to elders to change his mind."

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