Saving America’s Mustangs

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 2008

Wild horses, or mustangs, have roamed free in the American West since the days of the Spanish conquistadors. Because they have almost no natural predators today, they multiply rapidly and threaten to overgraze the areas where they live on protected federal land in ten Western states. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management keeps the herds at about 27,000 horses by regularly rounding up extra animals. Historically, about 60 percent of these surplus horses have been purchased at auction for adoption. Passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act in 2005 banned the killing of leftover horses. Since then, nearly 50,000 mustangs have accumulated in corrals and pastures where the federal government nows pays something like $70 million a year to feed them.

In response, Madeleine Pickens and her husband Boone Pickens purchased two ranches in northeastern Nevada, along with their grazing rights on adjoining public land, and proposed to use this land, fully fenced, as a preserve where culled horses could be allowed to run free. All males would be gelded to prevent the herds from reproducing, and visitors would be invited to camp on the lands and view the wild animals with guides. The BLM would pay fees to the 501(c)(3) preserve at substantially lower levels than their existing costs of warehousing the animals. No agreement has been concluded with the BLM, but in 2015 a portion of the ranch was opened as a tourist destination where Americans can learn about the horses Pickens considers national treasures.

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