Delegates OK roundup of wild horses

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 7, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Leigh T. Jimmie)

Horses graze on the grassland near Cameron, Ariz., on Monday, June 4.

I t was not an easy decision but it had to be made.


Shelly vetoes roundup bill

And now it's up to President Ben Shelly to either veto or sign off on the Council's appropriation of more than $2.7 million for a reservation-wide roundup of feral horses.

The Council's approval to fund the roundup included a request to Shelly to declare an emergency over the drought, which would allow Division of Natural Resources rangers and Department of Agriculture staff to bypass chapter approval of the roundup.

Shelly has until Friday to make a decision. Under tribal law, the president has 10 days to make is decision.

Katherine Benally (Dennehotso/Kayenta), who chairs the Resources and Development Committee, sponsored the roundup legislation, which was discussed at length by the Naa'bik'iyati' Committee and Law and Order Committee before reaching the Council on May 25.

The move to include the call to Shelly for an emergency declaration was threefold: to address the drought, feral horses and funding.

Several delegates noted that a combination of drought and overgrazing, especially by feral horses, was turning portions of the reservation into sand dunes.

They also emphasized that because of the lack of forage and water many of horses were suffering and slowly dying.

According to an April 2012 Navajo Nation Drought Status Report by the Water Resources Department that was attached to the roundup legislation, northeastern Arizona has an "extreme" drought designation.

Agriculture Department Director Leo Watchman Jr. stated in a Dec. 28, 2011, "Six Month Feral Livestock Round-Up Challenge" that during 2011 town hall meetings, "numerous" people expressed concerns about feral livestock such as horses, llamas, cattle and donkeys, the drought, erosion and overgrazing.

Watchman stated that individuals pointed to declining forage, sand storms and sand dunes as examples of overgrazing.

"The Resources and Development Committee also conducted a community meeting in Chinle wherein the community was adamant that the Navajo Nation address the degradation of Navajo lands caused in combination by overgrazing, livestock overpopulation, drought conditions and erosion," he stated.

"In addition, an alarming presentation was given indicating sand dune coverage was increasing by a large percentage annually on the Navajo Nation," he said.

Watchman was unavailable for comment on Wednesday but according to the U.S. Interior Department, the feral horse population in 10 western states, including Arizona and New Mexico, is 37,000.

Agriculture staff and rangers reported to the Council that a portion of the $2.7 million for the roundup would be used to conduct a helicopter count feral horses.

Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Lupton/Nahata Dziil/Wide Ruins), who supported the roundup, pointed to tribal law and noted that an emergency declaration by the president would allow the roundups to move forward without "political" interference by the chapters.

Agriculture staff and rangers reported that after previous roundups individuals who claimed to be owners of seized horses lobbied the president's office and Council delegates for the release of their animals.

Tribal law mandates that free roaming, branded and unbranded horses, especially those in rights-of-ways, are subject to roundup and can be held for five days at designated sites. Under emergency conditions, such as a drought, the horses are held for two days.

Horse owners have five days to reclaim their horses but they must show proof of ownership. After holding period, the horses would be sold.

Staff and rangers also reported that individuals cut fences between chapters and herd horses from chapters that approved roundups to chapters not having roundups. Once the roundup is complete, the individuals herd the horses back.

According to staff and rangers, tribal law mandates that chapters initiate the roundups by approving resolutions.

Community members are then given 10-day notices that are posted in public areas such as the chapter, senior citizen center, post office and store. Radio announcements are an option but not mandatory.

During the debate over the $2.7 million for the roundup, Jonathan Nez (Oljato/Navajo Mountain/Shonto/Tsah Bii Kin) noted that if Shelly declared an emergency the $2.7 million could be taken from the $20 million in additional revenues that the three branch chiefs and the Budget and Finance Committee agreed should only be used for emergencies.

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