The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has been a model within Indian Country in so many ways, including through its Range Management Program (RMP) within the Community Development Department (CDD) Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Division (EPNR). Range management involves properly managing and caring for the lands that belong to the Community, and all the animals and plants that share them.
In 1995, SRPMIC Ordinance 187-95 was set forth to protect the wild, free-roaming horses and burros on the Community. With this ordinance in place, SRPMIC has declared that “wild, free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic heritage of the Community and they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Community and enrich the lives of the people.”
Wild horses have essential requirements for survival. This also goes for the eagles, coyotes and other free-roaming animals here in the Community. But, the question is, how are we working together to keep the wild horse population under control?
Within the past seven years, the CDD/EPNR staff has been able to decrease the number of wild horses on the Community from more than 400 to approximately 165, through contraception efforts and horse adoptions to other tribes and individuals.
Keep in mind that the ordinance was established almost 20 years ago, but the strong initiative to reduce the high number of wild horses started until approximately seven years ago. Since then, CDD/EPNR staff has reduced the numbers significantly. The goal, per a study that was completed in the mid-2000’s, would be to reduce the wild horse population in SRPMIC to 75-80 horses total.
The Community’s Range Management Program benefits the horses in many ways: It prevents horse sale and slaughter, prevents and significantly reduces overpopulation, and ensures that the horses meet general health requirements.
“A primary function of [the RMP] is that when we’re reducing the herd, we reduce it in a way that’s very controlled. [We’re] sending them to good homes or [we’re] giving [the horses] to a tribe, and [we] basically check on them to make sure there’s no [possibility] of sending them to slaughter,” said CDD/EPNR Manager Christopher Horan.
The SRPMIC program also uses a form of contraception that most tribes are not using. “We use Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) for contraception,” said Senior Environmental Specialist and veterinary technician Brian Gewecke. This form of contraceptive is administered to the animals by dart gun, and the contraceptive serum lasts for 12 months. It is 85 percent effective, and the animals are not harmed in any way. “[Through] birth control, instead of 60 foals a year within SRPMIC, there are approximately eight to 10,” said Horan.
As stated in the ordinance, the RMP is responsible for the management of the wild-horse population here in the Community. The work includes feeding, cleaning of facility stalls, capturing injured or unhealthy horses (if any), administering vaccinations and birth control, and staying up to date on the latest herd-management techniques.
Horse adoptions over the past seven years have been successful, with tribes in New Mexico and Oklahoma adopting many horses, as well as individual adoptions that have also taken place throughout the years.
If a tribe or individual is interested in adopting a horse, there is a process and trial ownership period. The process spans a couple of months and the trial period lasts a year. Like anything else, the parties interested have to be cleared by CDD/EPNR staff and also have to show that they can provide forage, water and acreage for the horses. If so, CDD/EPNR staff will transport horses to them and then a one-year trial ownership period would go into effect. During this first year, CDD/EPNR makes inspections, and if the horses are comfortable, permanent ownership papers are provided and inspections are no longer needed thereafter.
“Many tribes have said that a herd of wild horses was a part of their culture and history. [Therefore, they adopt some of our horses],” said Horan.
While trying to get the horses adopted, the CDD/EPNR staff has run into problems with parties having financial responsibility and being able to maintain the horses. With the current economy, hay prices are high, and not many people have the funds to provide a horse with adequate necessities. “We live in the desert. We don’t have the natural forage, like most tribes do,” said Horan.
Future plans of the CDD/EPNR include collaborating with Arizona rescue groups, various sanctuaries that take horses, and a training contest that might offer incentives for trainers to train the horses.
“Because once [the horses are] trained, we don’t have to keep an eye on them as much and [the horse is] not going to go to slaughter. We need to balance the management with the population control. We’re getting creative,” said Horan.
“I’m not going to say that it’s easy. We’re still trying to get [our numbers] down. Management takes steps, layers and energy,” said Horan.
The RMP has been a role model for many tribes that currently have the same issues. Reducing the wild-horse population is not an overnight process. Without current contraception, approximately 420 foals would have accumulated over the past seven years, compared with the actual 70 foals (10 foals a year) born in the past seven years. Also, keep in mind that CDD/EPNR has helped 237 horses find a great home.
If you have any questions about the RMP, or if you are interested in adopting a wild horse, call CDD/EPNR staff member Brian Gewecke at (480) 362-7657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wild-Horse Herds on the Community
The SRPMIC Range Management Program manages two herds of healthy horses, the River Herd and the North Herd. Within each herd, there are many different bands with a variety of different horses ranging from strawberry roans, to dun’s and possible Spanish mustangs.