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Navajo Nation launches program to manage horse population

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In this Friday, June 29, 2018 photo, wild horses kick up dust as they run at a watering hole outside Salt Lake City. Harsh drought conditions in parts of the American West are pushing wild horses to the brink and spurring extreme measures to protect them. Federal land managers have begun emergency roundups in the deserts of western Utah and central Nevada. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The Navajo Nation is offering $50 for each surrendered horse to encourage the removal of unbranded, free-roaming horses from tribal land.

The nation's Department of Agriculture rolled out a voluntary horse sale and equine reward program last week to mitigate the overpopulation of animals on the range, The Daily Times reported .

The department will issue a promissory note for each horse surrendered at the auction yard in Naschitti. Payment will be issued within 30 days, according to the department.

The department started bringing attention to feral horse overpopulation in 2013, addressing the matter though horse roundups and entrapments, said Roxie June, the department's principal planner. The Navajo Nation has removed more than 2,000 horses this year.

"We try to leverage our funding and do as much as we can," June said. "No matter what we do — if we fix the windmills, if we fix the earthen dams, if we reseed, if we do conservation — those horses are still there and they're still eating up the range. It's like a vicious cycle, and the only option for the Navajo Nation is to remove horses."

The horse removals have drawn criticism from equine advocates and animal welfare organizations. June said she understands the opposition to horse removal, and the nation is working on alternative methods to address the issue.

"Once we get the horses to a manageable level, then we can start doing the other things," June said. "We can start training them, then we can start doing adoption, but right now, there are too many horses."

The department funded the program through a $250,000 grant awarded this year by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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Information from: The Daily Times