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Wild horse populations gaining on reservation


Wild horses roaming the Colville Indian Reservation. — submitted photo

There are an estimated 1,000 wild horses roaming free on the Colville Indian Reservation that have caused significant damage to certain areas they occupy, the tribal Fish and Wildlife Dept. says.

The areas that have become overgrazed contribute to the spread of invasive species, compaction, and erosion. The horses also compete with big game animals for forage, the department stated in a press release.

“The forage resource is being harmed because the horse is re-grazing the new growth as soon as it is tall enough to nip with the teeth,” Robert Compton, Rangeland Management specialist said. “The new growth is higher in protein and more succulent so is selected by the horse over more mature vegetation. Adding to the problem is individuals abandoning their horses because they can no longer afford to feed or take care of them.”

According to the department, studies have shown that horses will repeatedly graze the same areas and defecate in separate areas. This creates a patchwork of over-grazed areas by horses within a pasture. This overgrazing creates patches of noxious weeds and/or unpalatable forage. Because of this, horses have to move to adjacent areas to graze enough forage to sustain themselves.

“A horse consumes approximately 25 pounds of forage a day and these horses are not being fed supplemental feed during the fall, winter or spring so they are grazing the rangeland year-round, causing a vast amount of resource damages,” said Michael O. Finley, former chairman of the Colville Business Council. “Currently it’s estimated that the wild horse population can increase by 25 percent a year.”

The Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) Range Department is looking for people who would like to adopt horses. The department would like to remove 200 to 400 horses a year until there are about 200 horses left on the reservation. The tribal wild horse chasers and CCT Range personnel capture these horses for adoption purposes or they are sold to a horse buyer or brought to a sale yard.

“These numbers are based on different variables,” said Compton. “They include available forage, habitat impacts, threatened and endangered species, genetic diversity and variation in habitat conditions. We want to get down to a more manageable number and maintain a healthy herd of the highest quality for use by the tribal membership.”

People interested in adopting a horse can contact the CCT Range Department at 634-2308.

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