RENO - Madeleine Pickens, the wife of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, has bought a sprawling Nevada ranch to serve as a wild horse sanctuary that would keep mustangs on the range instead of in government-funded holding facilities.

If approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the move would mark the first time the government has released a large number of mustangs to such a facility.

Pickens is hoping to initially relocate 1,000 horses to the 14,000-acre Spruce Ranch about 70 miles east of Elko. Eventually, she wants to return all 34,000 horses in government-funded holding facilities and pastures to their natural habitat.

"It's such a huge beginning," Pickens told The Associated Press. "I plan to buy more property out there. There's such an overload of horses in government holding."

Pickens said BLM Deputy Director Mike Pool expressed support for the plan during meetings with her last month in Washington.

BLM officials said they recently received a formal written proposal from Pickens and must review it before taking an official position.

"We're encouraged by the recent meetings with her," BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said. "We're looking forward to working with her to put the wild horse program on a sustainable track."

Pickens purchased the ranch, which she plans to rename the Mustang Monument preserve, for an undisclosed price. The property comes with grazing rights on 540,000 acres of public land.

A check of Elko County Assessor records indicates a company called OTS LLC purchased the property Oct. 1 from Von and Marian Sorensen for $2.57 million. It is located south of Spruce Mountain, on the east side of U.S. 93.

Pickens also is negotiating to buy an adjoining 4,000-acre ranch that has grazing rights for 24,000 acres of public land.

Pickens first proposed establishing a wild horse sanctuary in 2008 after the BLM said it was considering euthanasia as a way to stem escalating costs of keeping animals gathered from the open range.

However, the BLM rejected her initial proposal, saying it involved the use of public land where wild horses did not exist when the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was enacted in 1971. Federal law restricts mustangs from such areas.

Jerry Reynoldson, a consultant to Pickens and a former aide of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the latest proposal addresses that issue, and wild horses have historically lived in the area.

"What was always holding this sanctuary up was she didn't own a ranch," Reynoldson said. "Everything changed when she bought the ranch. This moves it from the conceptual talking stage to reality."

Under Pickens' latest proposal, a nonprofit foundation would care for the animals with a government stipend of $500 a head, per year. An education center and lodging facilities would be built, and the preserve would be fenced to confine horses.

"(The) wild horse eco-sanctuary will give them their natural habitat back, along with a place that Americans can come and view the horses and learn about the land and American culture," said Stacie Daigle of Pickens' Saving America's Mustangs group.

About 33,700 wild horses roam freely in 10 Western states, about half in Nevada. The BLM set a target level of 26,600 horses and burros in the wild to protect the herd, the range and native wildlife, and rounds up excess horses and offers them for adoption.

Those that are too old or considered unadoptable are sent to long-term holding facilities, where they can live for decades.

Of the $63.9 million designated for the BLM's wild horse and burro program in fiscal 2010, holding costs exceeded $38 million, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said. More than 8,000 horses are in short-term holding and 25,700 are in long-term pastures in the Midwest.

"The BLM has a moral and fiscal responsibility to do something because they took the horses off public lands and created this debacle," Pickens said.

(8) comments


so she buys the ranch for $2.7 million and gets $500,000 a year for the horses. Assume a 30% expense and she is getting 13% return on her investment before depreciation. And I am sure she will get tax credits for the "monument". I would like that type of return with a guaranteed check every month from the gov.


Well then why don't you go and buy a large ranch and house the mustangs that ranch owners let their stallions bred to freely mind you. I think that she is doing a good job by taking care of what the BLM can't and have never.


I'm pleased to see this coming about. I hope it's very successful. MY big concern is the water supply. I know there are a few livestock water troughs in that general area,so if her new ranch has any of them,water should be readily available to the horses year round. And if she makes a few bucks doing the right thing,that's good too. It won't be a "free money" kind of thing-tending that size herd,I imagine,would be a pretty huge undertaking. It's likely far more work than we realize.


Go for it, roimike! Or, are you just another member of the Elko County Whiners' Association?


I say good for the horses, I hope she's successful. Hopefully this will add another avenue for tourism to our area.
roimike--If hay is purchased for those horses to get through the harsh winters they'll easily eat through half that $500,000 in about 3 months time. So hopefully she buys local hay and puts more of that money into our local economy.


I say good for the horses, I hope she's successful. Perhaps this will bring another avenue of tourism to our area.
roimike- If she purchases hay for these horses during the harsh winter months, they'll easily eat half of that $500,000, assuming she starts with 1000 horses. Hopefully she'll support local area ranches with that hay purchase, keeping more of that $ in our economy.


What are the horses going to eat? greasewood, halogeton? Take a look at the Spruce area and there is not forage for all of her horses and the native wildlife out there. Putting over 30,000 horses out there would turn the area into a dust bowl. Who wins? Not the native wildlife!

Wang Leather
Wang Leather

One writer mentioned forage. The wild herds have survived on scrub brush and what grass is on their range for untold centuries; even before Spanish explorers and their horses arrived. "Air-headed" thinking would have you believe the Pickens group has not considered forage and water sources. Ask yourself, would you spend piles of money only to see the animals perish? My firm belief is that without Madeleine's efforts the wild Mustang will not make it!

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