Ecosanctuaries collide with ranching

Jun 22, 2012

Horses drinking water at Trail Springs in Nevada’s Jackson Mountains. Large numbers of horses have been spotted using this small water source at Trail Springs in the southern end of the herd management area. Photo courtesy of BLM Nevada

As part of its responsibility to manage and protect wild horses and burros, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is soliciting bids for new long-term pasture facilities—located in the continental U.S. west of the Mississippi River—that provide a free-roaming environment. The solicitation is for one or more pasture facilities accommodating 800 to 2,000 wild horses. Each pasture facility must be able to provide humane care for a one-year period, with a renewal option under BLM contract for a five- to 10-year period. BLM may require having one or two public and/or media tours hosted by agency staff and the contractor during the life of the contract. The solicitation is open until Aug.

1, 2012, and is 100 percent set aside for small businesses under the North American Industry Classification System.

BLM’s bidding requirements are posted in solicitation L12PS00589, the details of which are available at http://www.fedconnect. net. To obtain the solicitation: (1) click on “Search Public Opportunities;” (2) under Search Criteria, select “Reference Number;” (3) put in the solicitation number (L12PS00589); and (4) click “Search” and the solicitation information will appear. The solicitation form describes what to submit and where to send it.

Applicants must be registered at to be considered for a contract award.

BLM manages wild horses and burros as part of its overall multiple-use mission. Under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, BLM manages and protects these special animals—declared by Congress to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”— while ensuring that population levels are in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. To make sure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands, BLM must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control the size of herds, which have virtually no predators and can double in population every four years. The current free-roaming population of BLM-managed wild horses and burros is estimated to be 37,300, which exceeds by nearly 11,000 the number determined by BLM to be the appropriate management level. Off the range, as of June 2012, there are more than 45,000 wild horses and burros cared for in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures. All these animals, whether on or off the range, are protected by BLM under the 1971 law.

In April, BLM announced it had selected for environmental analysis a publicprivate land wild horse ecosanctuary proposal submitted by Saving America’s Mustangs (SAM), a Nevada non-profit organization formed by Madeleine Pickens.

Pickens, wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, and her nonprofit group want to establish the eco-sanctuary across nearly 100 square miles east of Elko and south of U.S. Interstate 80—from the Ruby Mountains to near the Utah line.

Pickens bought two ranches last year that cover approximately 18,000 acres, and includes grazing allotment across another 550,000 acres of federal land that includes three existing Horse Management Areas designated by BLM.

BLM will conduct an environmental analysis of the proposal under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NE- PA) of 1969 to assess the environmental, economic, social, and other effects of the proposed ecosanctuary. BLM expects its NEPA analysis—which will include extensive public input—to be completed in approximately two years, after which the agency will make a decision about whether to enter into a formal partnership with SAM.

According to BLM, SAM’s proposed non-reproductive, 900-head ecosanctuary would help 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 ecosanctuary horses, which would remain under federal ownership. SAM would also provide Western history- and wild horse-related education and promote ecotourism.

SAM would relinquish the grazing allotments to BLM for intended use by wild horses. SAM was the only party that submitted a potentially viable proposal to BLM in response to the agency’s Request for Applications posted on March 25.

Other proposals were not selected for environmental review because they did not meet 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, 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 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 Feb. 24 announcement of its selection of a Wyoming-based, private landonly sanctuary proposal for environmental review.

But an Elko County commissioner sees future conflicts between the proposed ecosanctuary and ranchers.

“Is that what we want to do, take viable cattle ranches important to the economy and switch it so now they’re horse sanctuaries and the taxpayers support the horses there?” said DeMar Dahl, the commission’s chairman of public lands.

Dahl said backers of the project are facing some big hurdles, including proving that the concentration of as many as 900 horses won’t cause harm to public rangeland in violation of U.S. environmental regulations.

Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor