The head of the largest industrial park in the world emphasized economic over emotional arguments Monday in urging Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to reverse plans to transfer state ownership of nearly 3,000 free-roaming horses to private owners who critics say would sell them for slaughter.
"They don't understand we have an asset in Nevada that the rest of the world doesn't have," said Lance Gilman who manages the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of the Sparks area along U.S. Interstate 80 that serves as home to Tesla Motor Co.'s giant battery factory, Switch, Google and others.
The 167-square-mile (432 square kilometer) park is also home to about 2,000 of the horses likely headed to slaughter if Sandoval doesn't intercede, Gilman said during a news conference with leaders of the American Wild Horse Campaign who announced plans Monday to file a federal lawsuit in Reno later this week aimed at blocking the effort.
Gilman wrote the group a $10,000 check to help in their effort but he said they may be "missing the mark" by neglecting the economic benefit of the animals
"I'm a pure capitalist. For 40 years I've been marketing land," he said. "You've got to make the money heard."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who promotes the horses on his web site, is just one of the business titans who've fallen in love with the mustangs, Gilman said.
Switch, which has one of the nation's largest data storage centers at the park, "is enchanted with the wild horses" and Wal-Mart, which has a huge warehouse and distribution center there, has painted a mustang mural on its water tower, he said.
"I've had the incredible blessing of meeting with some of the (world's) finest blue chip companies," Gilman said. "Sometimes I have a hard time getting their attention because of their infatuation with these horses. They want to jump out of the car while I'm rolling to get pictures."
Sandoval was in a meeting Monday and not immediately available for comment, his spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said in an email to The Associated Press.
Suzanne Roy, the campaign's executive director, said the state's plan is a "flagrantly illegal scheme to give the horses away."
"There's nothing in state law that allows them to just give away these public resources," she said Monday.
Last month, the Nevada Department of Agriculture published a request for proposals for people willing to take ownership of the Virginia Range herd that roams about a 500-square mile (1,295 sq. kilometer) are south and east of Reno.
The move comes on the heels of the state's abrupt cancellation in October of an agreement with the American Wild Horse Campaign to jointly manage the herd through 2020 in a humane manner with an emphasis on fertility control. That program was administered under current state law that dictates state ownership of stray or feral horses not entitled to U.S. protections on neighboring federal land.
Nevada Department of Agriculture Director Jim Barbee said Monday the plan is intended to replace state ownership of the herd "with a reputable animal advocate organization that has the experience, knowledge, tools, resources and financial ability to manage to horses according to their needs."
He said his department intends to continue to consult with the state attorney general's office to ensure any transfer complies with Nevada law.
"Under the direction from the Nevada Board of Agriculture, it is within our authority to place (including sale or adoption) and control feral livestock," he said in an email.
Opponents say no private entity can obtain liability insurance necessary to cover so many animals over such a large area of open range.
Gilman urged Sandoval to appoint a mediator to try to bring a resolution to the dispute that he says strikes at the core of Nevada's decades-long effort to diversity an economy traditional based on casino gambling. He described Sandoval as a "champion of diversification" who "called our Tesla deal the deal of the century."
"And it's worked beyond our wildest expectations. It's called 'The miracle in the desert,'" Gilman said. "The horses played an integral part of that success."