ELKO — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has opened the door to proposals for private-public partnerships to create eco-sanctuaries for wild horses on private land.
“The key is public accessibility,” BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said Wednesday.
The idea is that private landowners would take in wild horses removed from Western ranges but allow the public to view the wild mustangs and offer education opportunities, he said.
The BLM currently pays landowners in the Midwest for long-term care of wild horses, but the difference with the new request for proposals for lands the BLM doesn’t manage is the public component.
“This is a solicitation of proposals. We don’t know what we will get,” Gorey said, explaining that the proposals have to be in the best interest of taxpayers, as well as the wild horses. “We’re optimistic and also will be realistic.”
A proposal activist Madeleine Pickens brought to the BLM and to Elko County Commissioners after buying two ranches in Elko County to create an eco-sanctuary wouldn’t fit under the solicitation of proposals the BLM announced this week because her plan included grazing allotments on public land, according to Gorey.
She could offer a proposal for only her private lands, however, or she could try again when the BLM opens solicitations for proposals for combination private and public lands, he said.
“There will be a separate solicitation for Madeleine Pickens’ type of proposal that will involve a mix of private land and land managed by the BLM,” Gorey said.
BLM Director Bob Abbey recently rejected the plan Pickens earlier proposed, and one of the reasons was because she was asking $500 a year per horse, while the BLM currently pays an average of $475 per horse for their long-term pasturing, Gorey said.
Pickens now states on her website that the organization proposes taking horses for $475 per year on 600,000 acres of private and public land in Elko County.
He also said her plan didn’t work because the herd management areas for wild horses are only in the sites where there were horses in 1971 under the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Her allotments didn’t qualify.
Pickens is head of Save America’s Mustangs, and the organization states on its web site that Abbey’s announcement that the BLM would seek requests for proposals for holding wild horses “offers a glimmer of hope that we can begin to move away from the failed policies of the past that have left us with upwards of 40,000 wild horses in facilities strung out across the United States.”
The foundation also states that the current agreements with ranchers for long-term facilities don’t offer “any incentive to improve resources or provide any return on the public investment. The public is not allowed to visit the horses in these private settings, and the horses simply exist there until their life span expires.”
The request for proposals is part of the BLM’s efforts to reform the Wild Horse and Burro Program, and the idea for these proposals came after the public failed to support proposals for the federal government to buy land to set up federal pastures for the horses, Gorey said.
Abbey announced a few weeks ago that the BLM would be reducing the number of wild horse gatherings and increasing fertility treatments of wild horses while the National Academy of Scientists studies the current policies and how best to manage herds. He said then the BLM would look at public-private partnerships.
Abbey said then there are 35,500 wild horses and burros in Nevada, California, Wyoming and other Western states, roughly 10,000 more than the range can sustain.
An additional 40,000 animals are in long-term pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
One of the criticism from the public is that there aren’t enough opportunities to view wild horses so the request for proposals includes expansion of a training and adoption program for the horses, as well as public outreach.
“An eco-sanctuary offers the public the opportunity of engaging with the cultural heritage of wild horses through public outreach, to include adoption and training opportunities and the creation of economic opportunities for local communities,” the BLM’s request of applications document states.
The BLM also states that each sanctuary will be marketed to encourage public visitation and provide opportunities for learning, and the proposals should be for a minimum of 200 horses.
Gorey said the new request for proposals doesn’t come with specific funding, but funding for eco-sanctuaries would come from “existing streaming of funding that goes to long-term holding contracts in the Midwest. The money will be diverted, if it makes sense.”
Those long-term contractors also could make the required changes to become eco-sanctuaries, he said.
Any proposals the BLM decides might work for the private-public partnerships would have to be followed by environmental assessments to be certain ranchers can handle the horses and meet the BLM’s criteria, Gorey said.
The deadline for applications is May 14, and the contact for those wishing to submit proposals is Susan Kaller, grants and agreements specialist, at 775-861-6559 or 775-861-6485.