These corraled wild horses at the Yakama Indian Nation were likely headed to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. (ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
A horse summit that kicks off Tuesday in Las Vegas is looking to bring parties together to find solutions to the ever-growing problem wild horses are bringing to wild lands around the Northwest. Representatives from various tribal groups are going to be a big part of that process.
Examples of tribal lands becoming overrun with horses in recent years have jumped as the horse population grows.
This Seattle Times article details the hurdles to wild horse population control – elements that include the fact that horses have no natural predators and market prices for their meat are in the tank.
The amount of compromise that can be struck to stop overcrowding may also be tricky due to intense opposition from animal rights groups. A congressional ban on spending federal money to pay inspectors of horse carcasses intended for human consumption, primarily overseas, killed the industry, the Times reports.
Populations have been building ever since, as the bottom fell out of the market that helped tribes and other horse managers keep numbers in check. Today, horses are trucked to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, and many more are overpopulating public and tribal lands, to the detriment, land managers say, of wildlife, native plants and the health of the range. . .
The Yakama reservation offers a good look at the problem. There, wild horses pour over the backcountry of the reservation, fast, liquid — and in growing numbers. Their beauty is part of the problem, stoking a mystique around wild horses that has made them a hard problem to talk about.
Like feral cats, the horses multiply at a prodigious rate: With no natural predators, and these days, no market for purchase, the herds are estimated at about 12,000 animals and growing.
That’s up from about 500 animals in the 1950s; 2,500 in the 1990s, and more than 4,500 in 2006. Carrying capacity of the tribe’s rangeland was about 1,000 horses in 2007, and it’s significantly less than that today, because of continued degradation from overgrazing, said Jim Stephenson, big-game biologist and wild-horse project leader for the Yakama Nation.