It’s been a tough year for members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon. The drought-blistered landscape of parched earth and wilting crops shows it. Then there’s the underlying damage created by two other forces of nature – menacing wildfires and wild horses.
Like much of the nation, the high country of north-central Oregon has been hit hard by drought this year. The summer has been drier than normal, with wheat that once grew high in this arid, mountainous region now starved by lack of moisture. Drought and wildfires have conspired to force the feral horse population to new grazing areas, causing at least $100,000 in damage to the remaining tribal wheat crop.
“The wheat fields are irrigated, so it’s a free lunch for them,” said Dr. Brianna Schur, a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS).
The land cannot support the estimated 6,000 feral horses. Worse, when wild horses graze they pull up the roots of whatever forage they find, causing erosion that eventually brings silt pollution to the tribe’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial salmon fisheries.
“There are issues with them crossing major interstates as well,” Schur said. “There haven’t been any fatalities or crashes, but there certainly is the potential.”
In an effort to assist the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs with feral-horse overpopulation control and other veterinary issues, APHIS Veterinary Services dispatched Schur and animal health technician Randy Wilson to the Warm Springs Reservation to lend a helping hand. The pair periodically journey four hours to get to the reservation. There, they assist in a feral horse castration clinic, held periodically and sponsored by the tribe and Oregon State University’s (OSU) vet school.
“While gelding stallions is not an effective way to reduce population, it does directly assist with animal quality and herd manageability,” said Jason Smith, range and ag manager for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
Smith said the clinics have provided a vital training forum for tribal members and OSU veterinary graduate students to collaborate on feral-horse herd health and distribution. In addition, APHIS has assisted with conducting Coggins Testing for equine infectious anemia, an expanded disease surveillance program. This testing is required to obtain health certificates for interstate transport and marketing. Blood-test samples are then sent to APHIS’ National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa – at no cost to the tribes.
Smith said APHIS also provides an “Equine Vet Day,” where tribal members can bring their horses in for deworming and various vaccinations, including West Nile and Equine Herpesvirus type 1 for prevention of that serious respiratory pathogen. There is also a Brucellosis vaccination clinic, conducted jointly with the university.
“This clinic has helped the Warm Springs cattle population, not only with the necessary identification documentation for interstate marketing but it also gives a much-needed service to the Tribes for making sure they have healthy livestock.”
Compared to local auction yard fees, Smith said the reduced cost per heifer vaccination “provided a welcome savings to tribal member livestock owners for cattle health care.” He said the potential for the Brucellosis clinic to assist in heifer marketability as breeding stock “can also be realized by tribal members, who may be receiving a better price with their vaccinated and tagged females.”
“These USDA-APHIS programs have provided our tribal members a great service and benefit to their livestock’s health and welfare,” Smith said. “We look forward to continue this mutually beneficial relationship with USDA-APHIS as they continue to carry out their federal Trust Responsibility to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.”
Schur said she, too, has gleaned much from the cooperative arrangement and she plans future outreach to tribes in Washington.