Wyoming Ranch Chosen for BLM Eco-Sanctuary Review

Wyoming Ranch Chosen for BLM Eco-Sanctuary Review

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

A privately-owned Wyoming ranch could become the site of the first eco-sanctuary for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustangs and burros.

Last year, the BLM solicited proposals from private sector individuals and organizations interested in partnering with the agency to develop eco-sanctuaries for wild horses and burros, which would help the BLM feed and care for excess animals that have been removed from Western public rangelands and would be publicly accessible with a potential for eco-tourism.

On Feb. 24 the agency announced that the 4,000-acre Deerwood Ranch located in the Centennial Valley in Southwestern, Wyo., was chosen for ecological review. The review is required under provisions of the National Environmental Police Act and will determine the site's environmental viability as a wild horse sanctuary. Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, said that if the results of the ecological review reveal that the site is suitable, the agency would pursue a partnership agreement with ranch owners Richard and Jana Wilson. If a partnership agreement is finalized, the ranch could become home to more than 250 wild mustangs.

Under terms of the agreement, the BLM would sponsor the eco-sanctuary at a funding level comparable to what the agency pays ranchers who care for animals residing in long-term holding facilities in the Midwest, Gorey said. The partnership agreement would also include funding to help defray sanctuary operating costs, he said.

Bob Abbey, BLM director, said the ranch selection represents a milestone in the agency's effort to reform the Wild Horse and Burro program and make its operation more cost-effective.

Ranch owner Richard Wilson said the eco-sanctuary concept helps the animals, too: "(The eco-sanctuary) will benefit the horses by giving them their freedom to roam and have the life they should." Wild horse advocate Laura Leigh said that in general eco-sanctuaries represent another kind of long-term holding for wild horses and burros. She also believes that locating sanctuaries in states such as Wyoming, where state law facilitates horse processing plant development could in the future, puts animals at risk for slaughter.

"If slaughter were outlawed these sanctuaries would be a great way to open up ... to the public," she said. "But we must begin to really put public land management under a microscope. Until then we are not dealing with a potentially tragic situation proactively."

Wilson expects that the BLM will make its decision about the Deerwood Ranch site within three to six months. "We hope to have horses here early this fall if everything goes as planned," he said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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