Council member: 'We have failed our horses and we cannot neglect them any longer'

WINDOW ROCK - Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture (NNDOA) Director Leo Watchman estimates there are 70-80,000 feral horses throughout the Navajo Nation.

Watchman made the comment June 2 while giving a report to the Budget and Finance Committee (BFC) about a feral horse roundup program that was implemented in 2013. He gave a financial update for the initiative as well.

Watchman said the Navajo Nation Council appropriated $3.1 million in Fiscal Year 2013, to be used by the NNDOA and Navajo Nation Department of Resource Enforcement to conduct feral horse roundups and to devise solutions to grazing and livestock management issues.

"The majority of the feral horses do not have brands, and those that do, have been orphaned by their owners," Watchman said

Watchman added that the increase in hay sale prices, ranging from $16 to $20 per bale, may have led livestock owners to let their horses graze in the open range, contributing to decreases of forage and water resources on the land.

According to the report, the NNDOA had a carryover of approximately $539,000 from the original appropriated amount and payed for various things such as labor, travel, a Navajo Horse Summit, equipment, transportation purchases and operating supplies.

Watchman said although many chapters passed resolutions indicating a need for the roundups, several resolutions were later rescinded because community members became discontented with the practice, regardless of the community education efforts on the roundups.

BFC member Council Delegate Tom Chee (Shiprock), said in addition to the horse trainings and roundups, the Navajo public should be further educated on how overgrazing is affecting the land and how to better manage their livestock.

"I am in full support of developing your program Mr. Watchman, from a financial standpoint. You can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their animals, and not taking care of our horses is a poor reflection of our Nation," Chee said. "We have failed our horses and we cannot neglect them any longer."

Chee recommended that the program receive continued support and funding until the feral horse problem has been fully addressed, and to further educate Navajo communities of their responsibility as livestock owners.

BFC chair Council Delegate Seth Damon (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Lichíí', Rock Springs, Tsayatoh) requested a report regarding the sale prices and profit of feral horses that have been sold to third parties, and how the profits have or will be utilized.

In response, Watchman said the responsibility of the horse sales and profits belonged to Resource Enforcement, adding that he would collaborate with that office to provide a more thorough report to the BFC at a later date.

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