Madeleine Pickens, wife of the eccentric billionaire tycoon T. Boone Pickens, wants to ride to the rescue of a beleaguered national icon. The wild horses that have been an emblem of the wide-open American West for centuries more recently became a major headache for the federal government, which routinely removes some of the horses from 1o Western states to prevent overpopulation and protect grazing land. But as the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) holding facilities grew crowded, federal officials gingerly announced that they were considering a euthanasia program to cull the herds at their facilities and contain costs.
Pickens, a racehorse breeder and lifelong animal lover, said she was horrified when she learned about the problem. “There’s got to be a way to bypass [the BLM] — why does it have to be Washington to solve the problem?” said Pickens, who, along with her husband, airlifted 800 cats and dogs stranded by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and brought them to California for adoption [Washington Post]. Pickens approached BLM officials and suggested an alternative: She would buy 1 million acres of rangeland somewhere in the West, and convert it into a permanent retirement home for the roughly 30,000 homeless and unwanted horses.
Pickens says she envisions a refuge that’s open to the public, where tourists could sleep in log cabins or tepees to get a taste of the frontier experience. “You shouldn’t be coming to this country to see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck,” she said. “We are more than that. We are a country that was formed on horseback and we should enjoy it, not slaughter it” [Dallas Morning News].
The wild horses and burros would be sterilized, Pickens said, so they wouldn’t contribute further to the overpopulation problem, and additional animals rounded up by the BLM could gradually be brought in to the refuge. About 33,000 horses still make their homes on the range, but the BLM hopes to bring that number down to about 27,000. Tom Gorey, a bureau spokesman, said the agency welcomes her offer. “Right now we couldn’t be more pleased with her interest and we hope that materializes so that we can get many of these horses out of holding,” he said [Dallas Morning News].
DISCOVER: First to Ride looks back at the first humans to domesticate wild horses
Image: flickr / DangerRanger