Hopi Tribe says livestock reduction necessary to manage prolonged drought impacts

An executive order by the Hopi Tribe that demands a 30 to 100 percent reduction in livestock will remain in place through December 31, 2031. The order was mandated to allow for adequate recovery of the land base following extreme drought conditions. (Gilbert Honanie/NHO)

An executive order by the Hopi Tribe that demands a 30 to 100 percent reduction in livestock will remain in place through December 31, 2031. The order was mandated to allow for adequate recovery of the land base following extreme drought conditions. (Gilbert Honanie/NHO)

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. — On July 20, in response to the on-going drought in the state of Arizona, and during a two-month period in which a shocking, 90 percent of the region was in a state of either extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Tracking system, the Hopi Tribe issued Executive Order #011-2021: “Range mitigation and livestock reduction in response to the state of Exceptional Drought on the Hopi Reservation”.

In reviewing historical data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) the current conditions within the state of Arizona are among the driest on record, and while the recent heavy rains, especially during the second half of July, resulted in short-term improvements to the Hopi land base, the overall climate trend has remained unchanged, with 99 percent of the state continuing to experience some level of drought.

The executive order to reduce livestock is likely to be one of many mitigating actions

The issuance of Executive Order #011-2021 which mandated that livestock owners throughout the various Range Units of the Hopi Reservation reduce their permitted cattle allocation anywhere from 30 to 100 percent, is likely to be the first of a series of drought mitigating actions, detailed within the Hopi Drought Plan, which was passed by the Hopi Tribal Council in 2000.

In accordance with the Hopi Drought Plan, the Hopi Drought Task Team, which includes representatives from the various programs under the Hopi Department of Natural Resources, such as the Water Resources Program (WRP) and Office of Range Management (ORM), the Office of Hopi Lands (OHLA), the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO), and other Tribal Programs and Federal agencies, is charged with analyzing and evaluating climate forecasts, meteorological and hydrological data, and several drought indices to determine potential drought conditions, and when necessary, to implement drought mitigation and vulnerability reduction strategies.

“The Hopi reservation and the State of Arizona have been in a drought for the last 26 years and data suggests it is likely to continue.” said Priscilla Pavatea, acting director for the Hopi Department of Natural Resources. “But the frequency, duration, and severity of drought is difficult to predict, and this is why the Hopi Tribe has worked to develop effective drought preparedness and mitigation strategies over the past decade and build consensus regarding the best use of our natural resources during periods of drought, through public participation and education.”

The Hopi Drought Plan

Four drought stages are identified within the Hopi Drought Plan, each of which prescribes a specific series of mitigation activities to reduce the vulnerability of the Hopi people and the Hopi land base, from damage caused by drought, and aims to address three main aspects of Hopi life most vulnerable to drought in contemporary times: fire, ranching, and the domestic water supply/distribution.

“The Hopi Drought Plan addresses several areas of drought mitigation, and provides for a number of possible actions in each of these areas,” said Robinson Honani, Range Conservationist, and Acting Manager of the Hopi Office of Range Management. “But we chose to begin with the reduction of livestock, for practical reasons, as livestock are one of the biggest burdens on the Hopi land base during times of drought and can have secondary effects on the domestic water supply. Additionally, because it is an activity that is already subject to regulation through a permitting process, it is a sensible starting point.”


The Hopi Tribe said the state and the reservation have been in a drought for 26 years. (Giblert Honanie/NHO)

The Hopi Office of Range Management estimates that there are roughly 2,200 cattle on the Hopi reservation, and according to the Humane Society’s research on the daily intake of livestock, cattle consume on average 2 percent of their body weight in forage and approximately 30 gallons of water each day. Therefore, with the average weight of an adult cow on Hopi being roughly 800 pounds, and 2,200 cattle in the various Hopi Range Units, this equates to 15.9 tons of forage and 66,000 gallons of water consumed per day.

Other burdens on the land base

However, cattle are not the only animals burdening the land base, as an estimated 555 feral horses also roam throughout the Hopi Range Units. Although their impact is comparatively less, the Office of Range Management along with the Hopi Law Enforcement Services (HLES) aims to address the feral horse impacts in the coming months.

“We understand the importance of maintaining and monitoring the rangeland boundaries to ensure that the land base isn’t burdened by trespass livestock that are not permitted to be there,” stated Hopi Police Chief Virgil Pinto. “Our officers and Police Range Assistants are prepared to support the Office of Range Management and enforce, when necessary, all standing provisions and orders.”

“Droughts have substantial impacts on the quality of the grazing land and actively effect forage quality,” Pavatea said. “Even with the recent monsoons, which have caused the land to temporarily green up, there is a significant lack of value in the vegetation on the range, which can lead to overuse of, and the potential loss of vegetation.”

“We understand it can be a difficult decision to have to reduce your herds,” Honani said. “But since the beginning of this drought, Hopi ranchers have always known that livestock reduction was a possibility, and we have worked to inform them about the different programs and resources available to them, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program.”

Climate change

Climate conditions during drought also tend to favor fire, whether structural or wildland, because of a lower relative humidity and a higher occurrence of erratic winds, making fire suppression a major concern of Hopi villages and the Hopi Tribal government. However, the demands of a drought on the community water systems, whether resulting from a need to maintain livestock or combat fires, can result in a loss of pressure in the primary and secondary water systems and can ultimately result in cross-contamination and potential illness caused by back-flow from residential gray water into primary lines.

While village water is primarily supplied by deep aquifer wells, better insulated from the effects of drought, even these supplies can become limited in drought conditions.

“It is this primary vulnerability of village and community water systems that the Drought Task Team, per the Hopi Drought Plan is tasked with addressing as well,” said Jarrett Calnimptewa Program Manager of the Hopi Water Resources Program. “To this end, the Hopi Water Resources program has in the past, put forward actions to complete water system upgrades to meet current community needs, although this work is on-going.”

As Executive Order #011-2021, remains in place through December 31, 2031, to allow for adequate recovery of the land base, drought monitoring activities will continue, with increased monitoring of specific drought indicators and as stated within the Hopi Drought Plan, if and when these indicators fall below certain trigger points, the Drought Declaration may be lifted or downgraded to the next level of severity.

“In the end, we have to remember, that the main objective of this Executive Order, as well as the Drought Executive Orders issued before, is to improve and preserve the range land and manage [that resource] for the maximum benefit of all Hopi people, utilizing proper conservation measures.” Pavatea said. “And although some of the potential response and mitigation actions might not be popular, they are ultimately justified by the data and conditions we are seeing.”

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