Sunday, December 6, 2009

Letter from Madeleine Pickens

December 3rd, 2009

Dear Friends,

In keeping with my commitment to protect America's wild horses, I thought it important to provide you with an update of where we are with the plans to build a sanctuary for thousands of wild horses currently in holding pens across the country and to inform you of a new initiative I am launching on another front: the wild horse gather schedule that has been proposed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Nearly 18 months ago I launched the effort to buy a ranch in Nevada to build a state of the art wild horse sanctuary that would be home to thousands of wild horses that currently stand in holding pens, their fate uncertain. At the time I began this odyssey, there was talk of euthanizing thousands of the wild horses that were and remain in BLM's holding facilities. We were able to take that discussion off the table, though many horses are still going to slaughter in Mexico, and we proceeded to circulate the plan from my Foundation to build a sanctuary that would provide a permanent home for the horses and be accessible as an educational and tourist destination for the American people. We met with every official within the Department of Interior, including Secretary Salazar, assistant secretaries, the new BLM Director, Bob Abbey, and many members of Congress, along with their staff.

Secretary Salazar has embraced the idea of public/private partnerships and creating what he calls "preserves," basically along the lines of the proposal I submitted for the sanctuary in Nevada, with one significant difference; he wants to build them in the Midwest or the East, far from the natural habitat of the wild horses and their natural range, Nevada and the other states in the West. His announcement also included plans for two "preserves" that the BLM would buy with $96 million dollars of taxpayer money that would house a total of around 7,000 wild horses.

While the Secretary was making his recent announcement to create "preserves" for wild horses, he also laid out his plans for other management activities with the wild horses. Included in his proposal was the announcement that the BLM is going to gather between 12,000 and 13,000 wild horses in the next calendar year, beginning later this month. This proposed gather schedule threatens the very survival of the remaining wild horse herds in the western United States and must be stopped.

Among the many things I have discovered during 18 months of negotiating with the BLM is that their management style goes from crisis to crisis, never quite achieving any resolution of a major problem before a new one arises. At the time I began the discussion of a sanctuary for wild horses, there were 33,000 of them in various holding facilities, some short term and some long term. There are still 33,000 wild horses in holding facilities, some that have been in the same facility for up to two years, and still no answer to that problem. The holding facilities now managed by the BLM are full to the maximum and they are having difficulty finding more long term holding, another concept unique to their management style and arguably not consistent with their mandate under the law to "preserve and protect" wild horses for future generations.

In spite of the fact that all the facilities are full, they propose to gather another 12,000 horses with virtually no place to put them. Even if the Secretary's announced plans to buy and create two preserves could be done, it could not be accomplished for another one to three years at the earliest and that is assuming that the Congress will appropriate the money, an assumption that is unlikely given the current budget crisis. And yet my Foundation plan to build a sanctuary using private dollars for the purchase of the land languishes on some bureaucrat's desk.

Rest assured I will not give up on the plan to build the sanctuary so the American people have a place where they can come and witness the majesty and grace of our great legacy, the wild horses. But I must also turn my attention to what I consider the current crisis and challenge, the gathering of 12,000 or more wild horses.

There are many reasons why we must stop this massive gather. To begin with, there is a legitimate dispute over the number of wild horses remaining on the range, and the BLM number of over 30,000 must be called into question. There have been repeated calls for new census methodology to be utilized to determine the actual number of wild horses remaining on the ranges in the western United States. The BLM has resisted these calls and relied on outdated and ineffective methods of counting horses. Before we know how many wild horses actually remain on the range, we cannot allow 12,000 or more to be gathered.

Over 21 million acres of land originally designated as Herd Management Area available to our wild horses has been taken away from them. This was done by zeroing out over 100 Herd Management Areas designated by the original Will Horse and Burro Act legislation. The BLM committed over a year ago to produce a report on the status of those lands, yet nothing has been forthcoming in that regard. In most cases, those 21 million acres are now being grazed by cattle.

Another argument not being taken into consideration deals with the genetics of the herd structure of many of the herds and bands of wild horses designated for gathers in the coming year. Many equine scientists have written and discussed the issue of genetics and many have concluded that taking existing herd numbers below certain levels will have a devastating effect on the future reproduction rates and activities of those herds. The BLM is not applying a scientific approach to the issue of genetics when designing these gathers and the result of ignoring these issues could easily result in the future disappearance of these wild horse herds through sickness and disease or inferior breeding.

As I mentioned earlier, there is no room for 12,000 additional wild horses in the BLM's existing facilities. Gathering them without a plan that addresses where to put them will only result in another round of discussion about euthanasia and slaughter.

I am launching an effort to stop these proposed gathers and I will engage at many different levels in order to succeed. Your continued monitoring and support of the wild horses is greatly appreciated and I ask you to continue to check my website ( for updates on my efforts to stop the gathers and to get the sanctuary built. Together we can succeed in protecting our wild horses for future generations.

Thank you,

Madeleine Pickens

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