Horse News

I-Team Video Update: NV Elko County’s Strict Building Codes Biased Against Mustang Monument?

By George Knapp , Matt Adam as published on

“You take the hatred of horses aside, there is no good reason why anybody should be opposed to this here, or anywhere else,”

LAS VEGAS – A California businesswoman who invested $25 million in creating a tourist attraction in rural Nevada says she probably wouldn’t make the same decision again.

The founder of the Mustang Monument wild horse sanctuary in Elko County says that further investment would be a waste of money because she’s been blocked from opening, not only by the BLM, but also by Elko County officials who say they don’t want to support anything that keeps wild horses on the range.

Madeleine Pickens is rich, blonde, female, and is from California, and those are four strikes against her in some circles.

But the fact that she wants to create a sanctuary for wild horses in a county known for its ranching industry is what probably doomed her Mustang Monument project. Ranchers are not fans of the BLM, but animosity toward wild horses is the one issue on which both of those camps can agree.

At travel expos around the world, including Europe and China, Madeleine Pickens pitched her Mustang Monument eco-sanctuary as something different for high-end tourists, a chance to interact with wild horses in the same region where the first horses on earth were born.

Travel agents loved it, state tourism promoted it, and the visitors who stayed last year were overwhelmed. It looked like 2016 would be a huge success, but it never happened.

“We had to reimburse them. We had to cancel reservations. It’s terrible,” she said.

Pickens knew she would have trouble with the BLM if she tried to put mustangs on her public acreage, but she continued to pour millions of dollars into fixing up her 20,000 deed acres with new water systems, massive pivots to grow alfalfa, first class guest accommodations and a hangar filled with expensive SUV’s and customized coaches.

Local contractors were hired to do the work, local ranch hands to care for the mustangs. The monument represented jobs, tourists, and tax dollars but from the beginning Elko County said no thanks.

County commissioners, several of them cattle ranchers, voted against the sanctuary in 2010. In the minutes of public meetings, commissioners said they opposed any use of water rights for wild horses. Another said he didn’t have enough information to make a decision, but still didn’t like Pickens’ idea. Elko is cattle country, and ranchers see wild horses as a threat.

“You take the hatred of horses aside, there is no good reason why anybody should be opposed to this here, or anywhere else,” said Clay Nannini, Elko realtor.

Since the county commission’s vote, Pickens encountered obstacles at every turn. Building inspectors imposed and enforced standards unknown in Elko County and delays became commonplace.

“They don’t discriminate. They all apply the same standard, which is, it’s Madeleine Pickens. She can wait a little while. She’s from California, so she can wait,” said Jerry Reynoldson, wild horse advocate.

“Every time the building department comes by, they now want me to fix another building for another $750,000. They don’t like this. They don’t like that,” Pickens said.

Example, an old house converted into a dining hall and kitchen. It took two years to get the permits and cost a million dollars.

She intended to build a kitchen that could handle up to 45 diners maximum to match the ranch’s capacity, but instead had to construct a stainless steel mega-kitchen that looks like it belongs at the MGM Grand.

“You could see this kitchen in a restaurant in San Francisco that served 500 people, and you know it’s totally out of place here. She will never use what’s there but they just made her build it because they could,” Reynoldson said.

Kitchen mops had to have their own walled-off section, and it required its own permit. A walk-in refrigerator was nearly approved, until an inspector wanted to see evidence it was earthquake-proof.

“So I asked the engineers, the builder and he said, ‘We’ve never been asked for this kind of information on a walk-in refrigerator,'” Pickens said.

Pickens spent a million dollars buying what she calls safari tents, tee-pees, to provide visitors with an upscale western experience. The county required that each tent sit atop a slab of concrete and rebar 7 feet thick, then added, the tents would need their own sprinkler systems in case of fire.

“I said, I’m out of this. I rolled up the tents. They’re all stored and I will probably sell them in another state or somewhere else,” she said. “They’ve all had a wink and a nod. In other words, give her a hard time. That’s hard to take. You come in, you’re sincere, but after a while, you don’t want to continue to throw money away.”

Not only has the BLM prohibited Pickens from putting mustangs on her public acres, she couldn’t open her own property to visitors if she wanted to. That massive mega kitchen still doesn’t have a permit to operate commercially, and she was told she can’t even use it for family dining. The airplane hangar of custom SUV’s will likely be sold off, without the vehicles ever being used at all.

The I-Team called Elko County for a comment and will let you know what they have to say when they call back.

13 replies »

  1. Sorry, I posted this in the wrong thread:

    Wow. The area is swoonworthy, it would be such a fantastic visitor attraction – with jobs and good for the local enconomy. I wish she wouldn’t quit – surely there’s a lawsuit here?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you RT. I asked and you provided. I hate seeing this. Where are these advocates who are airways begging for money? in sure that if they had worked with her that place would have been awesome to the max. Three strikers would have had a safe place to land where they wouldn’t have had to support them. She could have avid would have been able to hire more armed guards for the horses avid that damned county wild have had to fall in line. Again thank you RT.


  3. The BLM and these county officials have just taken out an ad verifying exactly how crooked they all are! I agree with ida – there HAS to be a lawsuit here – at the very least! Do the people in this county realize what their “politicians” have done? Removed any chance of bringing jobs & MONEY into this area? Are they all afraid of their local government “officials”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • sadly it is a good ole boy network in these “ranching” counties here in Nevada, they put their sons in city commissioner jobs, and another son in the county comissioner and then the dad is a state senator, . two weeks ago i sat thru 8 hours in the Nevada State Legislative chambers watching the “public lands committie” appprove recommendation after recommendation to wipe our our horses, both state and federal, kill thousands of “varmints” by allowing those “ranchers” to shoot said varmints from their truck on “certian county roads” , they are trying to take all th ewater, even private wells, and more and more.. every anti mustang recommendation was put up by “the son, county comissioner” and his father sits on the committie, that will now take those recommendations they approved and try to make them law. the wild west is still alive and well in “rural” nevada and make no mistake, those counties make all the laws for our state, not las vegas not reno, not the casinos,,,

      Liked by 1 person

      • oh and i forgot to mention how the comittie members acted like children while listening to the 50 or so nevada voters who came to give testimony in support of the wild horses and how GLEEFULLY they totally ignored every comment when they passed all the recommendations, save one, the one that would require private property owners to put fence on their property if they dont want “livestock, or wild horses on thire land” Nevada already is a fence out state, but there is no enforcement and the father senator did not want to “force a rancher to have to put up and pay for a fence that might be 5 miles long……. it was sickening to watch theses elected officials ignore everything that was said in the public comment section and basically laugh at it, once most all the people had left as they put the items on the agenda after the lunch break with public comments comming at the start of the day most people could not stay all day.


      • The ranchers and Cattlemans association have way to much power, even with our politicians in Washington. I emailed state senator Mark Manendo yesterday regarding the Mustang Monument and was thoroughly surprised to get a response back from him personally. He claims he is trying to make changes for animal welfare and is doing a good job at the state level. He also claims that he does not take any dollars from special interest groups such as the Cattlemans Association. But even if he is an advocate, it is hard to fight everyone else. Really sad. I think Madeleine was a positive for Elko county.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Bet the BLM will gladly take it off her hands – for a severely reduced price(tax payer money) – that was the plan from the beginning . They want the lands resources to sell to their cronies(money in their pockets).
    Tax payer and wild horses=0
    Let’s just keep staying the course, it is working so well for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The thing that really sets me off about this is that some of the same individuals standing up for people who graze livestock on public lands have this absurd prejudice and hatred against this poor woman who, to my knowledge, has never done anything bad to them. I don’t give a damn if she’s a liberal, a conservative, a Christian, an atheist, from California, has a ton of money, etc. What she did for these animals is honorable and her rights are being trampled on. God knows that I would have empathy for a cattle rancher if his private property rights were taken away too. Horses or cattle, what the BLM is doing is wrong, and the failure of the very “champions” of our freedoms to case aside their negative preconceived ideas and selfish ambitions in order to stand up for what’s right rather than being concerned about their image shows an overwhelming amount of hypocrisy by the “good ol’ boys”. The flags, guns and cowboy hats may look patriotic, but they mean NOTHING if you support tyranny towards a select few.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It sounds like her opposition has to do with the Good Ole Boys Club. I am sure most of them are cattle ranchers or have beers with their cattle ranchers buddies. Elko county could obviously care about jobs and tourism coming into their county. News flash, there is more then cattle ranchers and that is what it all boils down to. I would fight them tooth and nail with a lawsuit. It is the principal of what they are doing to her. But my attorney would not be from Elko county.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Please do your homework before doing a story like this.. I would start by first reviewing the 990’s for this organization and the property records. Pay particular attention to the mission statement as well as how the money has been spent. You may also want to check out the millions in loans under the rescue and to whom they owe. At the very least do your research….and follow the money.


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