The Navajo Nation has certainly stirred up an issue that needs to be addressed. The much-needed discussion of what to do with excess feral horses on their reservation has extended to the Western United States. By offering their logical and economical solution, the humane use of excess horses to feed humans and zoo animals, the Navajo Nation has generated legal and legislative discussions. Unfortunately their solution will likely fall victim to politics and hysterics and never be realized. Implementation of their solution has already been halted by an injunction due to a lawsuit by animal rights groups.
There are tens of thousands of feral horses on the reservation. Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo President Ben Shelly, said, according to the Associated Press, that the nation’s largest Indian reservation can no longer support the estimated 75,000 feral horses that are drinking wells dry and causing ecological damage to the drought-stricken range.
These are horses that have been abandoned and turned out to fend for themselves. This problem not only affects drought-stricken reservation lands, but for years, there have been upwards of 200 feral horses (the estimates from wildlife professionals ranged from a dozen to 200 — I counted 53 one day) illegally grazing the Coconino National Forest lands bordering the Navajo Reservation northwest of Flagstaff.
But that is the just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. According to a new study published in Science, there are way too many wild horses roaming the American West, estimated at 33,000 animals, and their management will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion over the next 17 years. In 2012 the U.S. Government — make that you — spent $75 million feeding and sheltering 45,000 unwanted “wild” horses. When deer and feral pigs get out of control the issue is easy. Allow hunters to pay the state to manage their populations and the protein is readily consumed. Horses are another matter. While horsemeat in Europe is accepted as simply another protein source, in America horses have a different, although illogical, status.
Today the Navajo tribe is rounding up some horses for slaughter in Mexico where the animals are likely treated less humanely than would occur here, but their request to allow the slaughter of excess horses in this country will never be realized.
My bet is there will be a roundup of reservation horses at your expense and the horses will be offered up for adoption. The tens of thousands that are not adopted will become wards of the federal government and placed either on federal lands, where they will compete with native wildlife, or the horses will be held and fed and, in the end, the problem will not be solved.
The issue will only be shrouded in the cloud of what the white man calls the Wild Horse and Burro Act, legislation that is badly in need of renovation, including a heavy dose of logical, scientific-based wildlife management.