Issue: The Winecup Gamble Ranch's proposal to develop a wild horses sanctuary and other horse related services in Elko County, NV.
Situation Report Summary:
Over the past decade the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been removing more horses from public lands than it as been able to place with private adopters and with public agencies that use former wild horses in the performance of their duties. This trend has resulted in a backlog of some 33,000 horses being held in contract holding facilities. Clearly the BLM has reached a point where it now is holding more horses than it can reasonably expect to place. Having accumulated so many horses in BLM's holding inventory, it is likely that most adopters would choose younger horses over animals that are in their teens and twenties. Since BLM "markets" horses that are aged five years and under, a large number of very adoptable horses over five are standing around in corrals only to eventually be the next crop for BLM's elder care.
While there has been much debate as to how BLM got itself into this position, the horses nonetheless exist and it is not practical to return most of them to their free-roaming herds. It may take years for the BLM to get its horse program turned right side up. In the meanwhile what is unarguable is that BLM now has a huge number of horses for which it has to come up with humane and practical alternatives to "straight" contract holding. Furthermore BLM's solution has to be one that both Congress and the majority of the American public will accept.
Polls have clearly illustrated that up to 70% of the American public doesn't want to see the backlog of wild horses euthanized nor are they in favor of Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's proposed "exodus" plan to haul western horses to the midwest. However something certainly must be done.
The Sanctuary Proposal.
The Winecup Gamble Ranch in northeastern Nevada has proposed creating a managed one million acre wild horse sanctuary. The project would use 250,000 acres of deeded (private) land and 750,000 acres of leased BLM land to hold the horses. The horses would be seasonally rotated onto different areas of the sanctuary in order to protect range forage and wildlife. The ranch is capable of growing its own hay to feed the horses during periods when they are being excluded from the public lands areas.
Studies of the proposed sanctuary area indicate that the aggregate of private and public lands could sustain between 8,000 to 10,000 horses, with that capacity potentially increasing if the ranch made specific investments and improvements designed to increase grazing and water resources.
The sanctuary would be a contractor to the BLM and could offer a number of cost savings.
- The proposed sanctuary operations would be less costly than some of BLM's current holding contracts.
- The proposed sanctuary would involve a non-reproductive herd of horses, further containing BLM's costs.
- BLM could use the sanctuary's facilities when it gathers excess horses from northeastern Nevada ranges, reducing the costs and stress involved transporting horses across the state to Palomino Valley Center. Horses not earmarked for the adoption system could remain at the sanctuary, further reducing shipping costs and animal stress. The reduced load at Palomino Valley Center might eliminate the need and costs associated with building a new main facility in the center of northern Nevada. (Note 1)
- The sanctuary proposes to not only preserve, but improve public access onto the public lands associated with this project which would make viewing wild horses easier for tourists. (Note 2)
- The sanctuary will bring significant Federal funding to northeastern Nevada that is presently being spent elsewhere.
The original sanctuary proposal can be viewed here in a new window. (Please note that this is a large PDF file that may take some time to download, depending on your internet connection speed.)
As expected, the project was opposed by the local public lands cattle ranchers and the Elko County Commission. Based on their arguments of "opposition," it appears that they either didn't study the details of this proposal or they simply presented their historic "boiler plate opposition" to any innovative solutions that the BLM might be investigating with respect to its wild horse program. Nonetheless, Winecup Gamble tried to address these concerns.
Winecup Gamble's written responses to questions posed to it can be viewed here in a new window. (Please note that this is a large PDF file that may take some time to download, depending on your internet connection speed.)
Representatives from the Winecup Gamble Ranch and the BLM made a courtesy presentation to the Elko County Commission. According to people present, they were treated badly and as expected the Commission, driven by the public lands ranching industry, took a position opposed to the sanctuary proposal. However in reading their statement of opposition, the Commission's arguments raised actually had little relevance to the specific plans and operations outlined in Winecup Gamble's proposal.
Commissioner Demar Dahl's written response explaining the Commission's position can be viewed here in a new window.
Critics argue that the Elko County Commission's position is reflective of special interests rather than public interests. You are encouraged to review all the documents and draw your own conclusions.
What you can do.
- If you support the sanctuary proposal, call and write your own Senators and Members of Congress and tell them that it is time for the BLM to develop innovative alternatives to the agency's current horse holding strategy and that the Elko County Commission doesn't reflect the views of ordinary Americans. This proposal, and others like it, need full consideration and evaluation. Contact information for Senators and Representatives can be found here.
California residents consistently adopt more wild horses and burros from the BLM than any other state in the Union. Being able to keep Palomino Valley Center close to Reno and California provides a platform for improved adoption "marketing" at a location that is readily accessible to most of central California.
- The Wild Horse Preservation League and the Nevada Commission on Tourism are in the process of developing a wild horse adventure tourism campaign. The Winecup Gamble sanctuary could prove to be a significant attraction for this campaign. The tourism project is primarily driven by pamphlets however the project also has a web site - www.wildhorseadventure.net.