Wild horses roam around Monday at the Bureau of Land Management National Wild Horse & Burro Adoption Center in Palomino Valley, Nev. A government advisory board is considering the prospect of using euthanasia and unlimited sale of wild horses to control herd populations throughout the West and corral escalating costs of caring for the animals taken off the range.
About 33,000 wild horses and burros roam the open range in 10 Western states. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants that population to be about 27,000, in order to protect the herd, the range and other foraging animals.
Those horses that are too old or are unadoptable by the public are sent to long-term holding facilities. The BLM now has about the same number of the animals in holding facilities as on the range.
The agency has said the costs of keeping animals in the holding facilities has caused officials to consider euthanasia as a last resort.
Madeleine Pickens said she has proposed purchasing around 1 million acres to be a refuge for the horses now in holding facilities and that the BLM has agreed to give her the horses once she has the land.
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said the agency welcomes the 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.
Pickens said animals brought to the refuge will be sterilized, and she will be able to take the extra horses the BLM takes out of the wild each year as well.
"We will never turn an animal down," Pickens said.
Pickens said she is negotiating the purchase of the land but would not say where it was. She's also creating a foundation to help with the project.
"I feel this tremendous relief," Pickens said. "I feel like the wagon is surrounded and instead of being surrounded by evil, it's surrounded by people who are willing to help."
Gorey said that while the BLM has authority to euthanize the surplus horses, it's an option the agency did not want to have to exercise.
A BLM advisory board on wild horses was considering more than a dozen recommendations to help spur public adoptions that have slowed in recent years and to curb population growth as a way to reduce long-term holding costs.
Pickens, the child of British father and Lebanese mother who grew up in the Middle East and went to school in England and France, said she always had a love for the West and wild horses.
"It's such a beautiful sight to see," Pickens said. "This is our national heritage, and it needs to be preserved."