Pickens’ eco-sanctuary plan moves forward

Saving America's Mustangs, a foundation founded by Pickens, proposes a 900-head eco-sanctuary
Saving America's Mustangs, a foundation founded by Pickens, proposes a 900-head eco-sanctuary. © Jo Danehy

Madeleine Pickens’ plan for a wild horse eco-sanctuary in Nevada has passed an important federal hurdle.

Pickens, a well-known wild horse advocate and wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, said she was elated over news that her proposed sanctuary has been selected by the Bureau of Land Management for environmental analysis.

The analysis is an important step on the path to establishing an eco-sanctuary under a new scheme in which the bureau is looking to form partnerships with private groups.

The bureau says it will conduct the analysis to assess the environmental, economic, social, and other effects of the proposed eco-sanctuary.

It says it expects the  analysis, which will include extensive public input,  to be completed in about two years, after which the agency will make a decision about whether to enter into a formal partnership.

The sanctuary proposal, backed by Saving America’s Mustangs, a foundation founded by Pickens, proposes a  non-reproductive, 900-head eco-sanctuary.

Under the proposal, the foundation would improve and maintain fencing and water wells and oversee management of the eco-sanctuary horses, which would remain under federal ownership. The foundation would also provide Western history, and wild horse-related education and promote ecotourism.

Some bureau-managed public lands would be part of the proposed ecosanctuary – the 530,000 acres known as the Spruce grazing allotment. The foundation holds the allotment’s grazing privileges. It would continue to be publicly accessible for a variety of outdoor activities, such as big game hunting.

The proposed sanctuary also includes the foundation’s private land, abouth 14,000 acres located in northeastern Nevada, south of  Wells, that would serve as base property for the Spruce grazing allotment, which overlays portions of three wild horse herd management areas.

The bureau said the foundation was the only party that submitted a potentially viable proposal in response to its request for applications posted on March 25 last year. Other proposals were not selected for environmental review because they did not meet the bureau’s minimum requirements, including ownership or control of the necessary private land and a proven ability to provide humane care for at least 200 wild horses.

If a partnership agreement with Pickens’ foundation were to be finalized, the BLM would sponsor the eco-sanctuary with funding sufficient to cover the cost of managing the horses,  anticipated to be less than the bureau’s existing cost for holding horses in long-term pastures in the Midwest.

The potential partnership agreement for the eco-sanctuary envisions a fundraising role by the foundation to cover educational and tourist-related costs.

Bureau director Bob Abbey said his agency’s move to undertake the environmental analysis furthers its overall effort to improve management and control costs of the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Abbey said the bureau was preparing to publish a new wild horse and burro management strategy in the coming weeks which included,  among other things, calls for the establishment of eco-sanctuary partnerships.

Pickens said she was elated the bureau had decided to move forward with her proposed eco-sanctuary, in Elko County.

“I want to personally thank the thousands upon thousands of supporters of Saving America’s Mustangs that have weighed in with their support over the past few years and for sticking with us throughout this journey. We could not have done it without each of you.

“I also want to thank the BLM and the multitude of their great staff that have worked diligently on this project over the past few years. Their support and the many hours they put into that effort is sincerely appreciated.

“While we may not have always agreed on every fine point during our early work, I think we always knew we were breaking new ground and moving in the direction of new horizons where the care and management of the nation’s wild horses are concerned.

“It is important to point out that there is so much hard work left to do and maintaining a good working relationship will ultimately determine how successful we are in moving forward and setting the stage for future successes.”

She says the foundation stands ready to take on the challenges and work diligently with the bureau to finalize an agreement “so that we can actually take the first group of 900 horses from the pens they stand in to once again enjoy the freedom of the open spaces of Nevada”.

A deal, once agreed, meant the mustangs would finally be coming home, she said.

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