By Scott Sonner, Associated Press
RENO, Nev.—Federal land managers have identified a wide range of issues that must be addressed to move forward with a proposal to establish a wild horse ecosanctuary over 820 square miles in northeast Nevada, from the impact on neighboring mustangs, livestock and wildlife to fencing, water supplies and the local economy.
The one thing most of the thousands of commenters agree upon is that that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's current horse management policy isn't working.
The BLM issued a 228-page public scoping document on Tuesday that it will use to develop a range of alternatives to examine. The effort will be done in conjunction with the plan by Madeline Pickens and her group Saving America's Mustangs to develop the Northeast Nevada Wild Horse Ecosanctuary that has been described as part dude ranch, part Jurassic Park.
The idea is to give visitors an up-close look at free-roaming mustangs in the wild along with a taste of Western rural life, while at the same time keep horses BLM removes from the range from spending the rest of their lives in costly holding facilities, mostly in the Midwest.
Pickens and other backers say it could become a vacation destination that would help pump millions of dollars into the local economy. Most of the criticism has come from ranchers who fear it could ultimately result in reductions in livestock grazing in the region.
For example, many people argued in public comments that BLM is doing too much to limit wild horse populations in the West, but some advocated removal of all wild horses from public lands due to the ecological damage caused to the range, the scoping report said.
Many asked for BLM to reduce the number of wild horses in long-term holding facilities. But others stated "the proposed ecosanctuary would be the same as a long-term holding facility because it would be fenced and would contain a non-reproducing herd," the report said. Some suggested reducing livestock grazing in the area, though that was met with concerns that it would have a negative impact on local ranchers and the economy, it said.
"No big surprises," said Terri Dobis, BLM project manager based in Elko.
"A lot of it already was on our radar, but we wanted to make sure we don't miss anything," she said Tuesday.
Pickens, the wife of Texas billionaire T. Boon Pickens, proposes the ecosanctuary stretch in Elko County from about 25 miles south of Wells located on U.S. Interstate 80 to within about 15 to 20 miles of the Utah border south of West Wendover along U.S. Highway 93-A.
The project will require a formal amendment to the agency's Resource Management Plan for the region that dates to 1985. BLM officials currently are developing the alternatives that will be included in a draft environmental impact statement to be issued late this year, a process currently estimated to cost about $872,000, Dobis said.
The agency "hopes to have a decision one way or another" on whether to approve the ecosanctuary by the spring of 2014, she said.
The scoping report issued Tuesday makes it clear that regardless of the outcome of the ecosanctuary, the plan ultimately will have to be amended "to respond to a growing concern for the increasing costs of managing the wild horse program and a general sense that the current system of wild horse gathering, holding and adoptions is not working."
Link to BLM Scoping Report here.