Horse News

Some Horse Sense at Last?

by George Knapp the “Knappster” on Las Vegas City Lights

BlM Forced to Consider Pickens’ Wild Horse Plan?

George Knapp

Officially, anyway, the news that the BLM is finally willing to consider a public-private partnership with wild horse advocate Madeleine Pickens is a good thing. After all — as reported in this space many times — the federal wild horse and burro program is a dismal failure. So any proposal that might reinvigorate the program, do a better job of caring for the mustangs and the public range, while also saving millions of taxpayer dollars, is a step in the right direction, even if it is a small step. In that sense, the BLM deserves a round of applause.

Of course, the real story is much different from what has been described in various congratulatory news releases, and not nearly as encouraging. My guess is that BLM did not want to take this step. Not now, not ever.

Mrs. Pickens first approached BLM more than four years ago about creating a sprawling eco-sanctuary for wild horses. The bureau has listened, somewhat politely; has repeatedly assured Pickens that it sounds like a good idea; has admitted the plan would save a huge amount of money over the long term and would probably create a tourist attraction that would benefit Elko County. Despite those assurances and repeated face-to-face expressions of support, BLM has been unwilling to give Pickens a thumbs up or down on her proposal.

Even after she plunked down more than $6 million to buy two huge ranches near Wells, BLM still would not give her an answer, except when it raised new and ever more complicated hoops for her to jump through.

Pickens has not been shy about criticizing the wild horse program, and she has accused the bureau of being way too cozy with the cattle ranchers it supposedly oversees. As she has pointed out, the BLM not only runs interference for the cattle industry, it is the cattle industry, since many senior BLM managers in the horse program either raise cattle or come from a cattle-ranching background. Cattle ranchers hate the wild horses and the wild horse program. BLM — especially in Nevada, where more than half of all mustangs live — has danced to the cattlemen’s tune, rounding up horses for causing damage to the range that almost certainly was caused by huge herds of cattle, using any pretext to clear horses off of land set aside by law for their preservation. (In just the past two years, more than a million acres in Nevada that was designated by law as habitat for wild horses has been wiped clean of all mustangs, though privately owned cattle were allowed to remain.)

I get the feeling BLM agreed to look into a possible partnership with Pickens through gritted teeth and a forced smile. The news release it issued is — how shall I put this — a bit understated in its description of the proposal. A few months ago, BLM gushed about a public-private partnership in Wyoming, a little 4,000-acre spread that will accept perhaps 250 wild horses if it is approved (compared to Pickens’ spread of 550,000 acres, capable of supporting thousands of mustangs). BLM called the Wyoming plan “a milestone” in the wild horse program, even though it wouldn’t make a dent in the backlog of 40,000 mustangs warehoused in government facilities.

Madeleine Pickens ~ photo by Julie Caramante courtesy of Horseback Magazine

No such words were used to describe the Pickens plan, although it would create an eco-sanctuary with attractions and educational benefits not found in the Wyoming mini-plan. In fact, BLM made a point of saying that there is no deal with Pickens, and that everything is contingent on a two-year environmental study, plus ample opportunity for public comment (meaning ranchers).

So why did BLM finally and reluctantly agree to even study the Pickens plan?

I think Sen. Harry Reid probably ordered them to come to the table. Reid has met with Pickens and her colleague, Jerry Reynoldson (a former aide to Reid), many times and thinks the idea has considerable merit. But he has not thrown his weight around, until recently.

It came to a head some weeks ago, when Reid accompanied Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a Las Vegas media event to tout tourism promotion in Nevada. Salazar was asked about the Pickens plan as a tourism generator, and his terse answer suggested he either didn’t know much about it or didn’t like it. Sources tell Knappster that once Reid returned to Washington, he decided that Pickens had waited for an answer long enough. I suspect that calls were made to the BLM’s Bob Abbey (who was appointed with Reid’s backing) to find out what the hangup might be. A week later, BLM issued its release.

Elko cattlemen are already squealing about how terrible this will be, about what a mistake it is to turn over this wonderful public range to horses. One opponent of the Pickens plan said it will cost taxpayers because it removes a profitable cattle ranch from the tax rolls.

This is what we in the news biz refer to as “total bullshit.”

The ranches Pickens bought have never been profitable. That’s why they were empty. The range up there does not easily support huge herds of hungry bovines. Much of the range has been brutally overgrazed, eaten down to the dirt, not by mustangs but by cattle. Pickens has already invested millions into gigantic pivots that will grow enough alfalfa to feed the 900 or so mustangs she hopes to receive, to go along with the 600 rescued mustangs living there now. She can afford to spend this kind of money on producing feed, though a rancher worried about his bottom line cannot. That’s why putting mustangs on range once designated for cattle doesn’t hurt cattlemen or anyone else one little bit.

Why BLM can approve the Wyoming plan in less than six months but needs two years to study Pickens’ property is beyond me — but I suspect that a nice, long study will give them time to find a reason to reject the proposal. That’s why proponents of her plan are publicly pleased but privately worried.

The BLM deserves credit for taking this step, even if it was forced to do so. Now let’s see what happens.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at

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25 replies »

  1. Just like always the BLM misleads the public. Thanks, George,for reporting the truth with another terrific article.
    BTW that looks like a strip mine in the background. More “good” use of our public lands by the BLM probably. The American public is getting ripped off by the DOI/BLM constantly IMO.


  2. The B)ovine L)oving M)iscreants are stalling. I really think their thought is eventually we will forget about it and go away. HA HA HA do they have another think coming!

    Ms. Picken’s idea of a sanctuary is aimed at being self supporting to a certain extent by tourism. I do have a problem with her receiving 900 “geldings”. This is hardly representative of the wild mustang culture people would like to see. Family bands, Stallions with Mares and Foals…this is what people would want to pay to see. My understanding is that geldings are pretty much a non-entity in the herd structure. I’m not sure who’s idea this was but I’d bet it’s a ploy by the BLM to sabotage the monument. IMHO.

    It doesn’t surprise me to hear Ken Salazar’s response was pretty much a ‘grunt’. The man is so obviously in the cattlemen’s pockets I just hope we can pressure the White House to relieve him of his office before more horses and burros are killed.

    Now to a very serious and I mean serious topic. To what authority can We The People file official criminal charges of animal abuse against Ken Salazar, Bob Abby even the President? I fear something DRASTIC has to happen to get them to wake up or at least get the news media involved. No they may not be guilty of hands on abuse but neither was Michael Vick. What’s good for the gander…

    I would love to see Brian Williams reporting on the arrest of Ken Salazar. Petition after Petition has gone unheeded by the POTUS to remove him so why not go about it through other channels. He’s obviously guilty as are the majority of the BLM employees.

    I like most of you am so frustrated and angered that this has gotten so out of hand that waiting for election day may not be an option. Do you know how many gathers are scheduled before the next election? Obviously we want to install officials who will do the right thing for our wildlife. But until then maybe arrests need to be made.

    If this could be done through the Attorney General’s office then they can foot the bill. They can pay for it out of the BLM budget for helicopters.


  3. And how long does it take the BLM to decide to remove thousands of horses from the wild? 2 Years? Hardly. I think we need to start applying the pressure to speed this up. 2 years is way too long and Knapp is right, they will use the time to find anyway they can to turn her down, not to assist her to make it a true,successful partnership.


  4. I find much to be encouraged about in this article.
    First sign of encouraging words: …gritted teeth and forced smile” Well where I come from gritted teeth and a forced smile is a sign of unwilling, but conceded point. Concessions arrived by gritted teeth and forced smiles or thoughtful thinkers or through logical mediations – haven’t got a problem with any of that at all.

    “In fact,BLM made a point of saying that there is no deal with Pickens, and that everything is contigent on a two year environmental study, plus ample opportunity for public comment.”

    “Environmental Study” Both positive words. Green and doing your homework! I can get behind that. Study also implies that nothing changes; that the “student” delves into the issue thoroughly, collects data and references, and then writes a paper with the hope of getting an “A” . So who is the “student” doing the study? That is the important question. In the meantime, while nothing is getting done (good or bad) the area being studied remains neutral – neither side has over riding ability to change anything til study is completed, weighed, and reflected upon by all members sitting at the (hopefully) round table.

    Patience is a virtue they say – and it is – we know we have truth, logic, ethics and humanity on our side – so patience can be frustrating when dealing with greed, power, thoughtlessness and self-interest motivated groups.

    Transparency is of utmost importance here. I can’t reiterate that enough, I believe I caught wind of photo journalists being curtailed in their right to cover transparency. This is unacceptable. Both groups should be allowed free access to transparency and their concerns/interests.

    So now I will step away (for a tiny second) from my beliefs and play the devils’ advocate.

    “Talk” is cheap. Two years is a long time for damage to be done if transparency is denied from the “neighsayers”. Vigilance is required from the “Whinnywinners” BLM if I am not mistaken is managed by the government (forgive me – my American government understanding is not my strength) But logic is. The government of America is still a democracy for the people? There wasn’t a change in your history in regards to “Vote for your favourite Dictator” ammendment that I might have missed?

    “Why BLM can approve the Wyoming plan in less that 6 months, but needs two years to study Pickens’ property is beyond me — but I suspect that a nice , long study will give them time to find a reason to reject the proposal. That’s why proponents of her plan are publicly pleased but privately worried.”

    Well we know why the Wyoming plan was approved. (Don’t wanna sound like a broken record here)
    It is NOT beyond me why they require a two year study for Pickens’ property – We are winning – The voice of reason, the voice of humanity, the voice of ethics can no longer be ignored. And hay – enlightenment can take two years, six months, one day – and we now have the opportunity to enlighten the world to a better change. I say all of the above as long as the rules of transparency is given. That horses do not “pose a national threat” to your nations’ security. Homeland Security does not apply.

    Continue the good fight – we have good on our side. (Don’t like the word fight), but this is exactly what we are doing – fighting the right fight, with no question marks or doubts.

    And yes the BLM deserves credit for this step. And yes we will be vigilant in seeing what happens.

    Giving a voice to the voiceless.

    Joanne Clay


  5. I just cannot get over the resistance that the BLM and the cattle ranchers are putting up over an excellent plan. Are they just blood thirsty? I mean if Israel and the Palestinians could come up with this kind of plan we’d all be shouting hooray. There is no reason they need that much time to review this. They need to get off their fat rancher asses and give those horses the break they deserve.


  6. I would say that these “Welfare Ranchers” just do not want their gravy train to end. They hate the horses because we love them. After all, there is nothing good about them unless they can bring them cash dollars. Again, I say the cattlemen better get with the program and start cleaning up their own businesses of cattle raising. Again, many people have stopped eatting beef because it can be tainted with ecoli and other batericas. How safe is that? I’m sure families do not want to hear reports of recalled meats from their grocery store. I also thought I heard one of that foreign
    countries was not accepting beef from the US because of these problems. No matter how much property they take, they better clean up their act. We all need to start pushing our Legislators about Mrs Pickens plan..and by the way how come our horses our on private ranches where we cannot see them unless we have an appointment. Do we even have an accounting of these horses? I agree that there should be family herds along with the geldings..I thought this was the point of the santuary, to keep the herds together. I did not know Harry Reid helped in the appointment of the worse Secretary of the Interior that we have had in years and years. Harry needs to rethink his position..We as Americans want to see Mrs Pickens succeed..Does she have to buy the whole state of Nevada to finally get her project up and running?


  7. Sorry, RT, but I’m going to hold my applause for the BLM. They belong in jail is my opinion. One other point, if taking away land from cattle will hurt the profits of the “prosperous” cattle business, why do the cattle ranchers need to get the monetary help from the government they have been getting for so long?


  8. Sorry also RT The only way the BLM will ever get an applause from me , is to put our MUSTANGS back where they have always BELONGED !!!!! Back on the Range !!!!!!!!!! Can I ever forgive them ??? for all the deaths they have caused that would be a huge no !!!!! The BLM will cain my respect when they start Protecting ansd Preserving tthem and respecting the Mustangs as a permanent part of the US thats what we pay them for isnt it????????????????////


    Hero Of The Herds!

    PART I
    Veteran Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and the I-Team (KLAS 8) in Las Vegas, Nevada have just released a series of news stories on the BLM’s Nevada budget for wild horse and burro management or perhaps the more correct term is “mismanagement”.

    The whole affair began last February when Mr. Knapp and the I-Team requested information asking BLM what they spend on removing Nevada wild horses and burros compared to the money doled out for adoption events.

    Forced to file a Freedom of Information Act request in order to obtain answers to this question, a seven-month wait finally revealed the BLM shelled out almost $10 million dollars between 2003 and 2007 for the removal of Nevadas wild horses and burros alone.

    For the same time period, the money spent on adoption events in Nevada totaled a little over $1 million, according to an interview conducted by the Knappster with Nevada Wild Horse and Burro Lead, Susie Stokke.

    However, there’s a reason George Knapp is the I-Teams Chief Investigative Reporter.


  10. I really tried to applaud BLM, but my hand threatened to revolt if I did. When the name, “BLM” is mentioned, my hand has another gesture in its mind…We have the fox guardin’ the hen house, and our “Interior” is left vulnerable. Our Dept of the Interior is corrupt from the top, to the bottom.


  11. Oh YES I CARE TO COMMENT. This is nothing but a smoke screen to delay and deter Madeleine Pickens and her plan. The BLM has time on its side and knows it. Salazar will throw up many roadblocks and in the end we will be reading that they were not able to come to an agreement.

    This will happen after two years of posturing and bullshitting by the BLM. As far as Harry Reid is concerned, if he wanted to he could put more pressure on this and could have done it much sooner.These men know what is going on and what has been going on for years. No one in D.C. does anything unless their feet are held to the fire of public scorn and pressure.

    Another session of Congress will close and nothing will have been done. The election will take up everyone’s attention and the horses will lanquish in the BLM Prisons for more years even though the only crime they commited was that they were not born a cow instead of a horse.

    Nevada is one of the most crooked states there is for anything and you can bet that the cattlemen have the Senators and Representatives by the balls when it comes to the wild horses and burros.

    It is amazing to see how much power they have when you consider that Madeleine Pickens, the wife of T.Boone Pickens, a billionaire, cannot even deal with these men. No compromise, no willingness to talk, just derision and just plain stubborness.

    The reason why is known to all of us….the cattlemen want to continue with their free ride on our dollar and our land. I say let them buy some more land for themselves and put their cows on it, don’t use public land for their profits.


  12. I’ll believe it when i see it. Actions are all that matter. Their word is not worth a plug nickel. Just ask the Native Americans.


  13. I believe Harry Reid could correct this real fast, if he wanted to, but the BS still continues. If I’m not mistaken, good ole Reid was instrumental in starting all of this, in the first place. Thanks to George Knapp for always speaking the truth and looking out for our equines….a real professional! You’ve gotta love this man! (-:


  14. George;
    You are so ABSOLUTELY ON TARGET with EVERYTHING you said!

    Ms. Pickens can do what ever she wants on her own ranches… the thing that the BLM is heming and hawing about is the extra grazing rights that were sold along with those ranches… my suggestion would be to go buy up those horses that are offered at $10 per head when the BLM has an auction and take them to her ranch. Then they would have no say so about her ranch or ‘her’ free roaming horses!

    I also suspect since these two ranches were empty for a few years, that some of her neighbors have been using those grazing areas which were designated to those ranches… Now that there is ownership they can’t free load and their pissed!


    • I would like to see Mrs. Pickens buy up the $10.00 horses and release them on her land. However,she must continue to fight the fight against BLM to bring all horses out of the BLM prisons and into some kind of managed existence that resembles their heritage.

      They will never be able to go back to their former lives, but she and others like her can make an attempt to establish ranches that will enable the wild horses and burros to run free.

      Incidentally, it is so stupid of the BLM to squander such a great resource as our wild horses and burros. The American public loves horses and burros and many different ranches could be made into attractions that would pay mostly for themselves. There could be entrance fees and campgrounds established on these public lands.

      The public would go to see the wild horses and burros and there could be different ranches in different areas of the country.

      There are so many opportunities for this to flourish; campgrounds, camps for children, teaching camps and ranches that just let the horses and burros roam free and wild.

      Instead of working AGAINST the horses and burros and warehousing them, creative minds could do so much more. Of course that would require that the BLM actually have some creative minds in their group.


  15. This may be one small, slow step in the right direction as far as the BLM is concerned, but if it does actually become a reality, it is a gigantic, monumental leap in the right direction for our wild mustangs! Of course, none of us actually trust the BLM, so we’ll have to see it to believe it. And, I still haven’t heard an answer to my question, are any of these mustangs going to be left intact to keep them from dying off, so they can be carefully “allowed” to breed, reproduce, & continue to carry on their bloodlines, or will they all be sterilized ? I support Madeleine & all her efforts, & hope this really does happen!


    • Valerie…if you’re asking about the mustangs that will be going to Madeline’s Mustang Monument should all be approved the agreement is for her to receive 900 geldings.


      • That’s a shame! I guess it’s good for those 900 geldings to be able to live out their lives in relative peace & comfort. But, this doesn’t & won’t solve the real problem or issue, that of trying to save this magnificent, hardy breed from extinction in the wild. It would be good to keep the bloodlines going, breed some that are in captivity, leave some (enough) breeding horses in the wild, to preserve that sturdiness, endurance & all the other wonderful qualities of this American breed. So, kudos to Madeleine’s efforts, something is better than nothing, but in the end, nothing just might win! So, the sad, tragic saga continues, as does our constant fight. This is just my uneducated opinion, but, I’d sure think they’d get a LOT more tourists if they could see wild mustang foals frolicking & kicking up their heels in play, all in a “natural” environment, & watching the parent/foal interactions. It seems this other option will be a little empty, sad, quiet, &, possibly boring to tourists. Oh well, the horses are the only inportant thing.


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