The aerial capture of wild horses near Joe Moses Road in Nespelem in early 2015.

Contract could still be approved with 10-signature resolution

NESPELEM - During Colville Business Council’s Natural Resource Committee today, CBC leadership voted against a recommendation that would have approved a $478,000 contract with Sun J Livestock to remove approximately 1,250 feral horses from reservation lands.

The vote puts on hold, but does not end an effort from tribal natural resource programs that started in December when the tribe published a request for proposal concerning the project to remove the feral horses through aerial assisted capture.

While the committee voted against the recommendation, an effort to complete a 10-signature resolution is still possible, according to CBC in committee. The contract was expected to start Jan. 14.

The proposed project intended to target areas that included Omak’s Omak Lake and Coyote Creek area, Nespelem’s Buffalo Lake area and the Hellgate Game Reserve.

The scope of work on the RFP, which closed Dec. 24, noted, “(The) contractor will be expected to gather and ship horses while placing the health and well-being of the animals, as well as contractor’s safety, as their priorities. The contractor shall accomplish the work in a safe and humane manner in accordance with all applicable state, federal and tribal laws…”

The goal listed in the Colville Tribes’ Feral Horse Management Plan “is to minimize the negative impacts of feral horses while maintaining a healthy and desirable population of approximately 50 to 200 of the highest quality, most desirable animals for use by the tribal membership,” according to the Colville Tribal Integrated Resource Management Plan.

In 2015, the tribes hired the same contractor to remove up to 1,000 horses from reservation lands. Through an aerial capture campaign, that contract resulted in the removal of just over 420 horses from range units near Nespelem’s Buffalo Lake.

“The area behind Buffalo Lake, after the horses were taken off, you could really see the difference,” said CBC member Jack Ferguson. “It started to recover quickly … but we stopped halfway through, wasted our money and didn’t finish the job. There is always going to be political kickback from the membership on any issue. We always know that. We usually have the horsemen in here, they said they could get them off. It’s been what a year or two now? It has become worse.”

The tribes provides a bounty on wild horses in the amount of $150 for mares and geldings and $250 for studs, according to Tribal Range staff in NRC.

However, CBC member Janet Nicholson pointed out tribal members had only reported 71 captured horses in 2017 and 81 in 2018.

Colville Tribal Natural Resource Director Cody Desautel reported there to be between 1,600 and 2,000 wild horses on tribal lands.

A horse herd grows on average by 25 percent annually, meaning the estimated population would increase by 400 to 500 horses annually.

Though he agreed with Ferguson that the area had recovered following the 2015 capture and that the horses had continued to be overpopulated, CBC member Andy Joseph Jr. reacted to the contract itself.

“We’re going to pay a nontribal $383 per horse if we do the math,” said Joseph. “To me, I always think that we have to give our tribal members the benefit of the doubt… If the bounty was equal or close to what we are willing to give these helicopter people, we might see more people out there. You round up ten of those horses, that’s $3,000. Some people might get that in a day if you had a group that worked together. To me, I can’t really support seeing them, seeing our tribe give this much money to a nontribal operation.”

CBC member Andrea George also spoke against the contract, asking about the removal of the horses from the range and about the contract process.

“I have been contacted by a couple tribal members and they expressed their concern about the horses,” said George. “I’m not a wildlife biologist, and I see some of our folks here who may know more about it. I don’t know about the degradation of the herd…, but I do know that there are several members that do feel the wild horses on our reservation serve, if nothing else, historical and cultural purposes. There are concerns about the removal. When you take a large herd of animals out of a particular environment, there has got to be consequences to that. I don’t know if we know what that will look like.”

In Chambers in the past, biologists and others have talked about the negative impact the herds have had on range lands and native species, including sharp-tailed grouse.

George also noted the contract had not been signed off on by administration and TERO in the regular contract process.

“I’m not sure why it’s at the table if it has not gone through the administrative process,” said George.

A 10-signature recommendation would allow time for the contract to go through the administrative process.

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