T. Boone Pickens spouse has plan to prevent killing of wild horses rounded up by the BLM

Plans to buy a big Nevada ranch as “retirement” for the horses-

This is quite a proposal . . . perhaps a million acre ranch in Nevada where these to-be-gelded horses and burros.

Unfortunately, while such large ranches are available, Nevada is so arid; and the ranches generally so devastated from years of cattle grazing, the horses may well starve and further damage the land, even with a million acres. Maybe 7-million acres?

Story in the Washington Post. Retirement Ranch Planned for Wild Horses. Rescuer Sees Tax Credits As Key to Luring Donors.

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Here is a sympathetic television clip on Picken’s plans





  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    As a mustang “owner” myself, I know this work. Instead, we need to get the millions of cattle off the public lands.

  2. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    left out the “won’t” before “work.

  3. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Just another animal “hobbiest” with more dollars than knowledge. Lets hope they make her do an EIR on this plan for this oh so cute invasive feral species.

  4. TC Avatar

    Agree with you Mike – if we’re going to get cattle and sheep off the public lands, might as well get rid of 95%+ of the “wild” horses (all the feral animals and mixed-blood animals that are descended from or are actual “dumped” horses) – they do a tremendous amount of damage to fragile ecosystems across the west and if folks love them so much, fine, adopt them or sterilize them (ALL) with YOUR money (good God, BLM has bigger fish to fry with a flat budget and personnel losses). They’re no more a “symbol” of the old west than cattle, sheep, bison slaughters, range wars, Indian wars, Mormon polygamy, or invasive tumbleweeds like Russian knapweed…

  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Gee, TC, what does all that have to do with getting cattle and sheep off the public lands? Regardless of the damage the wild horses do, they certainly do far less than cattle and sheep, which number in the millions in the West and Southwest and do inestimable damage to native ecosystems. After all, wild horse numbers, at approximately. 30K, are several orders of magnitude lower than cattle and sheep numbers.

    And quite a few people might disagree that wild horses aren’t a symbol of the Old West, or for that matter Ice Age North America. After all, horses are native to North America–they merely went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene here while surviving as emigrants to Eurasia, returning to North America in the 15th century with the Spanish. Domestic cattle and sheep, on the other hand, are truly alien species.


  6. Bonnie Avatar

    Seems to me this idea might work with a few big ifs included. IF she will allow natural preditation, including wolves and cougars. IF she will only take those horses that are ‘unadoptable’. IF all males are sterilized before being released (there will be plenty of herd stallions moving in from adjacent areas). IF she will be willing to allow nature to manage the population and not give into the temptation to ‘help out’ during severe winters or drought conditions. And finally IF the land is totally free of sheep and cattle.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love horses and have trained several mustangs. I agree with Robert Hoskins; I think they belong in the American West. But if we are going to try to consider them to be wildlife, we need to treat them like wildlife. Once a horse is released, it should be left totally alone to live it’s life out to the best of it’s abilities. Human intervention, in the form of the best intentioned management will simply result in eventual over population. Then we will see increased management attempts, including having to round up the excess population. An endless spiral back to where the wild horse population is today.

  7. outsider Avatar

    Bonnie if you allow nature to manage the population all your going to end up with is a mob of horses that will breed and breed untill they have overpopulated the area. They will then cause far more resource damage than managed livestock would ever think about. How do you suggest they keep them on the ranch after they have eaten every last plant and srub? are you going to put up a high fence, or pay people to herd them back onto the ranch. What will happen the first time someone sees and photgraphs a herd of starving horses? They only way I can see this working is if thery are manage like big game animals with a hunting season. Hey you never know I bet there are people out there who would pay good money to hunt a “wild” mustange. I’ve heard horse meat is acually quite heathly, very lean, 25 million french can’t all be wronge.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Interesting questions. One has been answered. The stallions will be sterilized. So the population will decline over time unless she continues to accept horses from the BLM.

    The rest haven’t been answered, but I think you can guess; no hunting, no sales for horse meat.

    Horses don’t do any more damage than cattle or sheep. It depends on the stocking rate. I think 30,000 horses on even a million acres of Nevada range is far too many. As I wrote above, Nevada ranches have generally degraded the range. They are hardly grasslands. Nevada is a very dry state. She will need more than a million acres.

    There are also questions about what kind of BLM grazing permit will she get? Permits require that livestock be on the base property for several to more than half the months a year. Can she accomodate all these horses on the base? Yes, by feeding them just as ranchers feed their cattle.

  9. outsider Avatar

    ralph, unless you have a “closed herd and make sure that neighboring horses don’t join up you will continue to have breeding and more horses, then unless you are willing to mange them, little horses grow up and become big horses that breed. And then their population explouds. As far as feeding horses, hey what ever makes them smile but thats a far cry from “letting nature run its course” Any livestock, or wildlife left uncheck will cause resorce damge, any plan should have management.

  10. Bonnie Avatar

    Preditation and survival of the fittest are two key components. Harsh winters with no outside feeding will help eliminate older and weaker members of the population, including foals. Preditation will also help. Without human intervention in the form of ‘management’ I still think the population could become essentially self regulating. If the population becomes too large for their food supply (or water supply in drought conditions) the weaker animals will die. However, if they keep adding new horses to the population either as abandoned livestock or unadoptable mustangs, then I think they would need the eight foot horse proof fences around the entire area to keep neighboring horses out. The only other option IMO would be to sterilize every horse they add to the population. If they don’t then you will see larger dieoffs due to lack of food and/or water. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about mice or horses or humans; if a population outgrows it’s resources, something must reduce the population to match the available resources or increase the resouces. Either the excess population leaves the area for a place with more available resources, the population is reduced to sustainable levels by death to some of it’s members, or an outside entity steps in to subsidize the resources. IMHO, the only realistic long term option is allowing the natural limitation by survival of the fitest.

  11. kt Avatar

    Ralph –

    One thing, BLM especially the Bush BLM allows ranchers to have cows on BLM lands YEAR-ROUND. The concept of a base property actually being able to support any livestock for more than a millisecond is long-gone in places like southern ID and northern NV. Operations like Simplot and ID state Sen Brackett are on public lands YEAR-round. Maximum cowboy welfare!

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks KT,

    I thought they had to make at least some attempt.

    Seems like a lawsuit regarding the Taylor Grazing Act and other laws might be useful.

  13. Eve Avatar

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hater of horses (I grew up on horseback), nor am I fan of cattle (or any livestock) grazing on public lands, but I am especially against the notion that somehow an exotic species like horses is in anyway entitled to a free roaming existence on any public lands. In my eighteen years of field experience in the west on both private and leased public lands, rangelands grazed by horses are typically in far worse shape than those grazed by much higher numbers of cattle. Keep in mind, many of the livestock degraded rangelands discussed in these posts in places like Nevada have also been subject to historical unchecked grazing by wild horses which used to be present in much higher numbers.

    Here’s the deal. Unlike cows, horses need high quality forage. Cows are ruminants (possessing a 4-chambered stomach) and go for quantity, not quality because their digestion is uniquely suited for processing high bulk, nutrient-poor cellulose. Conversely, since horses are animals with a one-chambered stomach and relatively inefficient digestion, they must seek out the most nutritious plants in their environment. Such types of palatable and nutritious plants are referred to as decreasers since the more heavily (over) grazed they are, the less likely they are to re-grow.

    Unlike bison, native ruminants (and yes, cattle), horses have the anatomical ability to graze a plant completely down to the level of the soil surface. This is significant as rangeland ecosystems in western North America evolved in the absence of horses, and many desirable plants, such as native bunchgrasses have their growing points (the perennial part of the plant that regenerates from year to year) situated above ground. If a horse grazes a native bunchgrass to the ground surface early in the growing season, it may not grow back that year, especially in the absence of further precipitation. If the plant is grazed continuously to ground level during a period of drought, that plant may perish from grazing pressure in as little as a single season. Horses make intelligent and opportunistic use of their habitat, but tend to create a vicious cycle of selecting the decreaser plants for their palatability and nutritional value, then continually returning to those plants for the possibility of grazing any re-growth. Their method of grazing therefore damages the most productive and nutritious plants in an arid rangeland ecosystem and facilitates invasion by low-quality rhizomatous grasses (which have their growing points below ground) as well as invasive annuals (like cheatgrass).

    For protection against wind, weather and the occasional predator, wild horses also tend to congregate in tightly knit groups resulting in disturbance and damage to the soil surface, facilitating colonization by noxious weeds. They tend to move on when opportunities for nutritious forage are exhausted, sort of an equine equivalent of ‘slash and burn’. These areas are usually severely degraded, and will remain so even if rested, since seed sources for more productive species may be completely absent. Since horses are extremely adaptable, and tend to inhabit arid areas that lack predators large enough to threaten them, without some sort of birth control or culling, they will quickly overpopulate, and will permanently degrade rangelands where they are allowed to roam unchecked.

  14. TC Avatar

    Thanks, nice post Eve.

    To the ever omniscient Robert Hoskins – lions and other wildlife species were widespread in North America prior to the Pleistocene extinction. Should they be allowed back and to roam at free will on public lands? The obvious answer is no, because they’re not the same animals that were here, morphologically or genetically. Neither are feral horses or even true mustangs descended from Spanish stock – do a simple comparison, google a Przewalski horse (the last extant wild-type horse) and compare it to photos of anything you see out on the range in the western US now. A better analogy would be domestic dogs that are allowed to run feral – sure, they were wolves once, but they’re not anymore.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan