The project, to be operated by Saving America’s Mustangs, a nonprofit organization owned by wealthy animal-advocate Madeleine Pickens, covers parcels of Bureau of Land Management and private land.
But the water rights in the area are for cattle or sheep use — not wild horses.
The proposed site is on the Spruce Allotment south of Wells, which includes portions of three wild horse herd management areas: Spruce Pequops, Goshute and Antelope Valley. Under SAM’s original plan, the organization would retire a now-existing grazing permit and use the forage for horses.
In exchange for care of the nonreproductive horses, the BLM would pay SAM a stipend.
“The big benefit to the taxpayer is that the cost to keep that horse would be a lot less out on the range (than it is in holding facilities),” said Bryan Fuell, BLM Wells field office manager.
Complications arose from state water laws. SAM obtained water rights in the area, which were for cattle, but that right doesn’t extend to wildlife or wild horses.
A Nevada Division of Water Resources representative said Tuesday applicants can request water use changes, but SAM didn’t have a pending application with the state.
If SAM decides not to apply for a water use change, it could decide to graze the horses as livestock.
“BLM would either sell or give the horses to SAM, and they would have a viable domestic grazing permit for domestic horse,” Fuell said. But under this option, SAM wouldn’t receive a stipend from the federal government because of the horses’ domestic status, which makes the project less attractive. Domestic horses that graze on public land have to be branded, as well.
Fuell said the BLM is waiting to hear how SAM wishes to proceed with permitting and analysis, but a letter his office received months ago indicated the organization had changed its mind.
SAM’s spokesperson was unable to be reached for comment.