ELKO, Nev. — The Elko County Commission on Wednesday voted to oppose Madeleine Pickens’ proposal to bring a wild horse sanctuary to the northern Nevada county.
Pickens, the wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, purchased two Elko County cattle ranches in October, hoping to convert them into the Mustang Monument, a horse sanctuary that would initially house 1,000 mustangs and serve as a tourist attraction.
But concerns surrounding converting cattle ranches to mustang ranches and the proposed sanctuary’s impact on public lands led commissioners to vote 3-1 in opposition of the project after 2.5 hours of public comment and a presentation by Pickens.
The commission’s opposition is a purely political move, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will have final say on whether the project is approved.
“Give me a chance to open a sanctuary here,” Pickens pleaded during the meeting attended by about 70 people.
BLM rejected Pickens’ initial proposal, saying it was in conflict with a federal law restricting the use of public land where horses didn’t exist when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted in 1971.
Ken Miller, BLM Elko District manager, said consideration of Pickens’ proposal “isn’t a private process” and there would be more opportunities for public input during the permitting process.
Pickens, founder of the nonprofit Saving America’s Mustangs foundation, said she’s already spent millions on a business plan for the facility.
There are about 40,000 wild horses on the range in the U.S., about half of which are in Nevada.
Between 11,000 and 15,000 horses are currently housed in short-term government holding facilities, which operate at an average yearly cost of $2,500 per horse to taxpayers, Pickens said. Long-term holding facilities are less costly, holding each horse for $500 per year, which Pickens said is a “big difference.” She said her proposed sanctuary would receive $500 from the BLM per horse housed.
Commissioner Warren Russell said that he couldn’t see mathematically “how one or two sanctuaries would make a big difference” to issues of mustang overpopulation.
Commission Chairman Charlie Myers said he’d rather see the facility restricted to private land. Russell said commissioners may reconsider their stance if Pickens can provide detailed plans that satisfy their concerns.
Russell said he has some economic concerns about the proposal, especially about Pickens purchasing additional water rights for the ranch.
“We’re very, very touchy with our water in Elko County,” he said.
“I would not come to Nevada looking for water,” T. Boone Pickens responded. “That’s of no interest to me.”
Commissioner Sheri Eklund-Brown was the only commissioner to vote against the motion.
TAGS: Elko County, Madeleine Pickens, BLM