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Yakama tribe's wild horses a problem for neighboring ranchers

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Bill Frazier works with ranchers whose land borders the Yakama Indian Nation. Wild horses from tribal land have been tearing down fence lines like the one pictured, as well as eating food meant for livestock. Ranchers are responsible for repairing the damage and replenishing food stores.

MABTON - Many ranchers depend on maintaining their property to protect livestock and feed for their animals, but wild horses roaming the Yakama Tribal land are creating havoc for some.

Bill Frazier works for several ranchers on the outskirts of Mabton whose properties abut tribal land.

He said the wild horses are tearing down fences and grazing on private property, decimating feed stores belonging to the ranchers.

"They are also trying to take our horses," said one rancher, who wanted to remain anonymous.

He said the Mustangs break through the fences and attempt to get his horses to join the herds.

Frazier said the Yakama Tribe can take back antelope once the herds break through fence lines, but not the horses.

"They tell us the horses are ours, but they aren't," he said.

At issue is management of the wild horse herds. Frazier said there are approximately 12,000 horses belonging to the tribe. He said there isn't any way to manage the herds because there aren't any processing plants in the state of Washington.

"The tribe has tried to get a plant to move in, but has not been successful," said Frazier, stating the tribe doesn't know how else to manage the wild horses.

"There's overpopulation...they are overgrazing the land and seeking food," said Frazier, stating the horses also create a problem for domesticated horses because those animals cannot survive in the wild.

He said domesticated horses either starve or are killed by the wild horses.

"People can't sell their horses at livestock sales because they must pay (to auction the horses) up front," said the anonymous rancher, stating domestic horse owners have been known to turn their animals loose on tribal land.

He said the fees charged at a livestock show to place an animal up for auction are beyond the owners' means.

That leads the domesticated horses to fend for themselves in an environment that is brutal with wild animals (the wild horses) that are more brutal.

Frazier said of the problem ranchers are facing, "The tribe tells us to build fences to keep them (wild horses) out...they just tear those fences down.

"The tribe should have some liability, but we are liable if the horses are on the road or roaming other properties."

The horses aren't only destroying fences, but they have been known to destroy crops and orchards, said Frazier.

He said one local orchardist had an entire crop decimated and there wasn't anything that could be done about it.

Frazier said there are instances of the horses in search of food entering the city limits of Mabton, as well.

The rancher said, "They are overgrazing up high, too. They are grazing on antelope land, driving the antelope closer to Mt. St. Helens."

To provide the public a general overview of the costs associated with the wild horses eating food farmers and ranchers have stocked for their livestock, the rancher said one small bale of hay costs $15.

Because of the problem, they are resorting to moving hay stacks to try and curtail the decimation of food stores.

Frazier said the Yakama tribe needs assistance from agencies like the Bureau of Land Management to manage the wild horse herds.

"They need management practices that are effective," said Frazier, stating the tribe views the wild horses as a true problem.

"Most believe it's just about killing the horses," he said, stating the issue is about sustaining the land and local ranches or farms.

The Daily Sun News attempted to contact the Yakama Tribal Police, but Police Chief Kelly Rosenow said he could not comment on the matter without first receiving approval from the tribe's media committee.

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