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Environment | Flora and Fauna

Tribes Tackle Wild Horse Problem

This mare and her foal are among the wild horses captured by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. An estimated 400 wild horses roam both sides of the Umatilla River.

This mare and her foal are among the wild horses captured by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. An estimated 400 wild horses roam both sides of the Umatilla River.

E.J. Harris

Near the end of September, Gordy Schumacher called up the Buck Brogoitti sanctuary and asked them to take on an injured wild mare and her foal.

Mother and baby included, Schumacher, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s agricultural and forestry manager, had managed to capture 14 of the estimated 400 wild horses roaming both sides of the Umatilla River by using a helicopter to herd them into a corral.

Although Schumacher was able to leave those two horses in sanctuary director Tamara Brogoitti’s care, he still has a tight budget and hundreds more to deal with.

“We’re just getting going,” Schumacher said. “It’s going to be a learning curve and that means we’re going to be making a lot of adjustments.”

This is the first year of a marked effort by the tribes to manage the rapidly growing population of wild horses. Around 400 currently graze the land as they please, resulting in ruined wheat crops, overgrazed rangeland, infringement on other wild species and the occasional impregnanted mare from a wild stallion.

According to Schumacher, the goal is not to rid the land of all wild horses, but to reduce the horse population to a number that is compatible with land needs and other wildlife.

Schumacher said their current goal is a population of 50 to 100 horses on the south side of the Umatilla. He hopes to eliminate the horse population on the north side because of agricultural needs there.

But it will take an expensive, difficult road to get to that goal.

The tribe’s plan to control the population, approved in May 2011, calls for a round up of all wild horses on reservation land. After a horse is captured, it is first put up for auction to tribal members. If there are no bidders, the horse goes to general public auction, then it is offered free to tribal members and then to the general public.

“Then I don’t know what to do,” Schumacher said. Five of the horses captured in late September — four stallions and a mare — did not sell at auction and are still with Schumacher. They will be offered to tribal members for free next Wednesday.

Schumacher can only board 30 horses at a time. He said the tribes don’t want to resort to slaughtering the horses, and that they are exploring every option they can to prevent that.

“That’s why I called up Buck’s (Animal Sanctuary),” Schumacher said. “Because the mare was injured, it was either euthanize her or see if the sanctuary would take her.”

Brogoitti is now giving antibiotics to the mare, who has a badly injured rear leg, through a dart gun called Dan-Inject. She said the gun could also be used to humanely capture wild horses at long distances.

According to Brogoitti, there are resources to turn to when people cannot handle an agricultural animal.

“Most people know they can take a cat or a dog to a shelter, but we want to get it out there that this is also a resource people can use,” she said. The sanctuary, which Brogoitti operates out of her home, can be reached at 541-969-3057.

Schumacher hopes to make further use of the sanctuary when he comes across difficult cases like the injured male and foal. For now, he’s just hoping the hay budget will get him through the next month.

“It’s going to be tight,” he said. “We don’t have much room for error here.” This story was first reported by the East Oregonian and shared through the Northwest News Exchange. Contact East Oregonian reporter Natalie Wheeler at 541-966-0825 or

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