I-Team: Bold Plans to Save Wild Horses
The wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens is riding to the rescue of Nevada's wild horse herds. Madeleine Pickens has a bold plan that would not only save the horses, but would get taxpayers out of a jam as well. The proposal is bold and big. Pickens wants to create a refuge for wild horses that could encompass more than a million acres of public land in northern Nevada. She has the support of wild horse groups, key lawmakers, and even a few people in the Bureau of Land Management.
"It's fascinating to me that you don't realize what you have. Here you have one of the greatest ecosystems that could be so popular. People go to the rain forest, imagine coming to Nevada and visiting the wild mustangs," she said.
Pickens thinks Nevada's vanishing herds of wild horses could be transformed into a major tourist attraction, instead of being viewed as four legged vermin, which is how many ranchers and bureaucrats see them.
Pickens and her husband are serious about their idea to set aside a million or more acres as a sanctuary for the more than 30,000 wild horses now squeezed into government pens.
Pickens initially wanted to take a few thousand of the horses off the BLM's hands, but the idea sort of took off on its own, "The first year I anticipate we would take 8,000 to 10,000 horses. They are the ones in temporary holding. If you go to Fallon, Nevada and you look at the horses in short term holding, they are stuffed into these corrals and they are really derriere to derriere. They have no room to move around. They were supposed to be here for three months and they've been there for three years. It's cruel. They would be the first group we would take."
The BLM announced last year it has no more room for additional wild horses, yet it continues to fund additional roundups on the ranges. The bureau says it can't afford to feed the animals either, which is why it admitted that thousands of the captured mustangs would have to be euthanized or shipped away to slaughterhouses.
Pickens wants to take the horses out of the corrals and let them run free on a vast sanctuary she hopes to assemble out of parcels both private and public. The horse refuge could provide an economic jolt to rural Nevada since Pickens hopes to turn it into an ecotourism attraction where visitors could observe mustang herds in their natural environment.
"There are so many creative ways you can think afterwards -- Jeeps, all kinds of things where you go out on safari and look for the wild herds. You can have an education center with videos, the history -- it's a living history. It's not dead. It's not gone. These horses live on and we can enjoy our land," she said.
Taking the horses out of the BLM pens could save the government more than $100 million in just the first three years, plus it would relieve the overcrowding and eliminate the need to put the horses to death.
Back in January, she met with BLM officials in Washington to explain her plan to create a million-acre sanctuary for wild horses.
BLM said it would need one month to address some initial legal questions. The month is up as of Friday. After that, Pickens plans to take her case directly to Congress to try and force BLM to act. It will be a major surprise if BLM has an answer by Friday and it will be an even bigger surprise if the bureau helps move the plan forward.
Horse advocates are already convinced BLM will come up with a list of reasons why the sanctuary is impossible. Pickens says she can't see how BLM could pass on this opportunity, just for the financial savings alone.
"It is costing BLM so much money to keep this program going. It's $27 then $35 then it goes to $65 million next year. It's inappropriate at a time when we have a global meltdown, that they still continue to gather, continue to put into short term holding and cost the taxpayers this money. By the year 2020, if they do my program, they would have saved $800 million. It's a huge number. I don't see how they could turn it down," she said.
But when it comes to the federal government, financial logic doesn't have to enter the picture. BLM's cooperation is needed in two main areas - first to allow the mustangs to be removed from the crowded pens where they're housed now so they could be transferred to the wide open spaces of Pickens refuge. BLM has long complained it has no room for the horses, and can't afford to feed them, but that doesn't mean the bureau would willingly let them go.
Second, BLM's help is needed to put together the million acres. Pickens would buy the title to ranchland but most of the acreage is public range with grazing rights assigned to individual private ranches. BLM would have to okay the transfer of that land from cattle grazing areas to horse sanctuary.
In the view of Pickens and other wild horse advocates, BLM has long been under the control of the cattle industry, "I don't think they hate the wild horses, I think they hate the wild horse issue. I sometimes wonder if they don't want the issue to go away because their departments grow and grow and grow and they get a bigger budget if they do more and more. So after awhile you start to think, could it possibly be that?"
When asked about concerns with the program, spokesman with BLM said they don't want to get into any of that at this time.