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Tribes could turn perceived horse problem into opportunity


I am writing in response to the Tribal Tribune article “CBC Votes Against Wild Horse Aerial Capture Contract,” to the Colville Tribe Wild Horse Law 4-14, and to the January 8 Council meeting.

I was present at this meeting when a vote on the contract was intended. Fortunately, the vote wasn’t held, let alone passed. More importantly, the half million dollars of tribal money requested for aerial capture by a non-tribal contractor can be put to better use in long-term benefit of both tribal members and horses — as well as for the land itself.

History has shown repeatedly that such dramatic, sporadic removal of a few animals has no lasting effect. Look, for example, at the 2012 and 2015 aerial captures that resulted in elimination of only a fraction of the intended animals; they were generally unsuccessful, expensive, and inhumane, violating many of the very guidelines in the wild and feral horse management plans set by the Tribe. They didn’t even address long-term management concerns such as equine reproduction rates and the dumping of privately owned horses into the midst of the wild herds.

While, of course, I understand that the number of wild and feral horses has an impact on the environment and utilization of our resources, it’s imperative to recognize the full picture of competition for limited assets. Any meaningful solution to sustainable land use must account for the simultaneous needs, numbers, and impacts of every use, not only feral horses, but also wild game and privately owned livestock, as well as recreation. Many legitimate studies by government agencies, universities, and animal groups show that livestock with cloven hooves can do a broader range of damage, can consume more types of plant species, and will drink more water than horses. It is not the heated issue of which animal does the most damage that matters, but rather it is understanding that they all play a role. From what I have heard in the few meetings I have attended, completely missing is any unbiased assessment of both the effects of our wild horses on the land and of their value to the Tribe.

Many find the wild horse an easy scapegoat without seeing either the complexity of their management or their very real and potential benefits to our people. We really can turn a perceived problem into a highly beneficial opportunity. Please expand your vision to help bring this historic tribal resource into a modern opportunity for our youth, our veterans, our underemployed, our would-be outdoorsmen, our traditional horsemen. We cannot afford to lose this part of our shared history as a people.

Developing long term sustainable programs that can benefit the Tribe and the horses needs to be explored rather than rejected out of hand. The Colville Tribe has long been known as a Horse Nation. Together, we can bring this back to reality and avoid the negative publicity of mass wild horse extermination or the loss of this basic element of our heritage. Studies such as The American Horse Council, the 2017 Equine Economic Impact Study, and the Backcountry Horseman of Washington for the Big Tent Coalition in Olympia in 2013 show the value for economic, cultural, and social development possibilities for the Tribe with a horse industry that added $122 billion to the U.S. economy, with over $5 billion to the economy of the state of Washington alone.

The meeting of January 8th ended with agreement to plan for another meeting to discuss horse management options beyond aerial capture and slaughter. I am waiting to hear back from the present natural resource councilman, Mr. Somday, and last year’s natural resource councilman, Mr. Cawston. I got to talk to Cody Desautel, the natural resource director, about getting the meeting set on this issue, and he said he has not received direction from the council to set up a meeting. I will post the details as soon as the meeting time and location is settled, or you can call the council to get the info. I really hope to see you there.

Charlene McCraigie, DVM

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