More than half a million acres in eastern Nevada could ultimately be home to thousands of mustangs
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The long-running controversy over the fate of the West’s wild horses may be at least partially resolved in the coming years, as the Bureau of Land Management moves toward partnering with private stakeholders to create a 530,000-acre eco-sanctuary in northeastern Nevada.
The BLM said this week it will start an environmental study of the proposal submitted by the Saving America’s Mustangs Foundation and Madeline Pickens. The study will take about two years. Subsequently, the agency will decide whether to move ahead with the plans.
“The selection of SAM’s proposal for environmental analysis furthers our overall effort to improve management and control costs of the Wild Horse and Burro Program,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. The agency is preparing to publish a new wild horse and burro management strategy in the coming weeks. The strategy, among other things, calls for the establishment of ecosanctuary partnerships.
In its early stages, the non-reproductive, 900-head ecosanctuary would help the BLM care for the horses while ensuring healthy rangeland conditions. Under the proposal, SAM would improve and maintain fencing and water wells and oversee management of the horses, which would remain under federal ownership. SAM would also provide Western history- and wild horse-related education and promote ecotourism.
On a larger scale, the foundation envisions ultimately creating a preserve large enough for 30,000 horses, but those plans could face opposition from cattle ranchers in the area, who see the horses as competing for scarce forage and water.
According to the BLM, the 530,000 acres that would be part of the proposed ecosanctuary would continue to be publicly accessible for other uses, including big game hunting.
The proposed ecosanctuary also includes private land owned by the foundation, including about 14,000 acres south of Wells, Nevada that would be the base property for the grazing allotment, which overlays portions of three wild horse herd management areas. (Base property is private land to which preference for obtaining a BLM grazing permit is attached; the base property is required for a permit, which authorizes grazing on public land.)
The foundations holds the allotment’s livestock grazing privileges, which it would relinquish to the BLM for intended use by wild horses.
SAM was the only party that submitted a potentially viable proposal to the BLM. Other proposals were not selected for environmental review because they did not meet the BLM’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 SAM were to be finalized, the BLM would sponsor the ecosanctuary with funding sufficient to cover the cost of managing the horses – an expense that is anticipated to be less than the BLM’s existing cost for holding horses in long-term pastures in the Midwest. The potential partnership agreement for the ecosanctuary envisions a fundraising role by SAM to cover educational and tourist-related costs.
The decision to begin NEPA analysis of SAM’s proposal follows the agency’s February 24 announcement of its selection of a Wyoming-based, private land-only sanctuary proposal for environmental review. The BLM plans to announce another Request for Applications for more private land-only ecosanctuaries.