Horse-sanctuary offer would be costly, DVM says

Horse-sanctuary offer would be costly, DVM says

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Mar 11, 2009
Reno, Nev. -- An offer from Madeleine Pickens to create a million-acre sanctuary for up to 30,000 wild horses could cost the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) more than it presently pays for long-term holding facilities for horses removed from public lands, according to the veterinary representative on the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.

That's one of two problems with her proposal, says Boyd Spratling, DVM, of Starr Valley, Nev.

Mrs. Pickens, wife of Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, said recently she is asking the government for a stipend of $500 per head, or roughly $15 million a year for 30,000 horses, to set up a nonprofit foundation to care for the horses.

"That's more than what the BLM already pays for wild horses in long-term care, mostly in Kansas and Oklahoma," says Spratling. The government pays landowners in those areas about $475 per head annually.

The stipend wasn't mentioned when the sanctuary offer was first extended, but more recently Mrs. Pickens said, "You've got to get some kind of break from the government."

While bureau officials say they appreciate the offer, another problem with it, according to Spratling and Ron Wenker, the BLM's state director in Nevada, is that federal acreage requested for part of the sanctuary cannot be used for that purpose, under terms of the 1971 Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act. That law restricts horses to acreage where herds roamed in 1971.

The BLM remains open to talks with Mrs. Pickens, however, says Wenker. "We tried to thank her politely," he told the advisory board at its meeting last week in Reno, where various proposals to limit growth of the wild-horse population, such as managing sex ratios in herds, were discussed.

Also during the meeting, the nine-member advisory board reappointed Spratling and two other members to new three-year terms.