The Navajo Nation has canceled plans for a hunt to reduce the size of the feral horse herd on its lands. The hunt had been slated take place in March.

In 2016 an independent survey revealed that 48,000 unbranded, so-called feral horses resided on the Nation’s 18-million-acre reservation located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Those free-roaming horses routinely compete with elk and deer for rangeland resources, the survey said.

In the past the Nation has used gathers to help manage herd growth but the tactic was not highly successful, said Gloria Tom, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources (Navajo Nation DNR). As a result, the Navajo Nation DNR established a special team charged with studying a multifaceted approach to keeping the number of unbranded horses in check. One strategy was a horse hunt in 2018. In response, several wild horse welfare organizations offered to work with the Navajo Nation DNR to develop an alternative to the hunt.

In a Feb. 27 written statement, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye announced that the hunt would not take place.

“We understand the concerns of the people,” Begaye said. “We know the issue of horses is an emotional one with strong feelings on all sides. My administration will not condone a horse hunt for controlling the overpopulation of feral horses. But we do need to implement a management plan to preserve and protect Navajo land for future generations.”

In response, a written statement from Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation commended the Navajo Nation for rejecting the hunt.

“We hope to continue those discussions with President Begaye,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation DNR has developed a multipronged horse management plan using trapping, castration, birth control, and adoptions, Begaye’s statement said.