Commission opposes wild horse sanctuary in northeast Nevada
ELKO (AP) – The Elko County Commission has taken a stand against a proposed wild horse sanctuary in northeast Nevada, partly out of concern that further protection of the mustangs could lead to cutbacks on livestock grazing on federal land.
Madeleine Pickens, the wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, bought a 14,000-acre ranch in Elko County last month and wants to turn it into a sanctuary called “Mustang Monument.”
She told the commissioners this week it’s the perfect place for such a project, among Nevada’s high desert rangeland and snowcapped mountains. She pictures it turning into a vacation destination for families, with covered wagon rides, campfires, storytellers and ecological activities.
“You have a secret here,” Pickens told the commission during a public hearing that attracted about 70 people Wednesday night.
“Give me a chance to open a sanctuary here,” she pleaded. “Mustang Monument, I promise you, will make Elko County proud.”
“There is romance and glamour to this,” she said, adding that millions of Americans “never get to see this way of life.”
Pickens, founder of the Saving America’s Mustangs foundation, said she has already spent several million dollars developing a business plan when she could have left that money to her daughter.
If the proposal is approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the sanctuary would be home to 1,000 mustangs initially and would be a non-breeding sanctuary.
Elko County has no legal jurisdiction, but Commis-
sioner Demar Dahl said he fears it could lead to the conversion of more cattle ranches to horse sanctuaries at the expense of future cattle ranchers. He said he wanted to go on the record against it and the panel agreed on a 3-1 vote.
Ken Miller, Elko district manager for the BLM, said the proposal “isn’t a private process” and there would be more opportunities for public input during the permitting process.
Commissioner Warren Russell said he fears Pickens will try to buy additional water rights for the ranch.
Pickens said she has no interest in buying water rights.
Meghan Brown, executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said it’s obvious Pickens is passionate about wild horses, but horses have negative impacts to public-use lands.
Terry Gary of Spring Creek said she supports the idea. She said she used to live in West Wendover and some of her fondest memories with her children were driving 20 to 30 miles on dirt roads to view wild horses.
“It used to be fairly simple,” she said, but added that it’s harder to find any horses in the wild now.
“She’s asking for a very small piece of the pie,” Gary said.