A Hermiston advocate for horse slaughter is proposing a slaughter plant and horse rescue center on 252 acres near the intersection of Interstate 84 and Westland Road.

Outside investors and five Northwest American Indian tribes are backing the plan, which would employ 80-100 full-time workers, said Dave Duquette, president of United Horsemen, a non-profit, pro-slaughter group. He declined to identify the investors or the tribes involved.

“The tribes have a bigger issue than anybody with their horses,” Duquette said. “The tribes are getting overrun by horses and they need to be a part of it. ... I can’t speak on behalf of the tribes at all, but there’s serious interest from all five of the tribes here in the Northwest that want to be a part of the plant.”

The Portland Oregonian reported last week that an estimated 6,000 horses roam the 640,000-acre Warm Springs Indian Reservation near Madras; up to 15,000 horses range across the 1.4 million-acre Yakama Indian Reservation in central Washington and 350 horses roam the 178,000-acre Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton.

“We have 10 times the number of horses that the range can carry,” said Jim Stephenson, spokesman for the Yakama Nation, told the Oregonian. “This is the worst range habitat conditions I have ever seen.”

Ownerless horses trample roots and berries that are important to traditional native feasts and leave little forage for other wildlife, Stephenson said. That impacts “fisheries, deer and elk, everything a traditional people depend on,” he said.

Deb Croswell, deputy executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, told the East Oregonian last week the Tribes have not committed to Duquette’s proposal or even discussed the project.

Duquette proposed building a 20,000-square-foot plant to process 100-150 horses per day. A rescue and rejuvenation facility would employ 20-30 people, he said. The site, donated by an anonymous supporter, borders the north side of the Northwest Livestock Commission Co., 28917 N.W. Livestock Road, Duquette said.

Duquette, tribal officials and state agency representatives met in February to discuss building the plant in Umatilla County. Scott Fairley, regional coordinator of the economic revitalization team with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office, is working with Duquette and other state agencies to get the ball rolling on the project, but beyond the state showing support little has happened.

“We provide technical assistance for economic and community development projects,” Fairley said.

Big questions remain on zoning, transportation and waste-water treatment. Duquette has made no applications for zoning changes or building permits. The property is zoned for exclusive farm use and a slaughter plant should be in an industrial zone, according to Duquette and county planner Tamra Mabbott. Duquette said he planned to treat wastewater using algae ponds.

The U.S. ban on horse slaughter was lifted, tucked into a spending bill signed Nov. 18, 2011, by President Barack Obama. However, no new funds are allocated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for plant inspectors.

The last U.S. horse processing facility closed when Illinois outlawed horse slaughter in 2007. Only three other states prohibit horse slaughter: California, Florida and Texas.

The meat would be used for human consumption, primarily in Europe and Asia. The meat would also be used to make food for pets and zoo animals.

A United Horsemen rescue and rehabilitation center on the property would provide unwanted horses a second chance, Duquette said. The concept behind the facility provides a humane option of slaughter for unadoptable horses, he said.

Unadoptable horses are either unsound, untrainable or otherwise not suited for a new home, according to the United Horsemen. Horses that can be trained will go through a training program and be put up for adoption.

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