Eight wild horses are gunned down at a watering hole, shot multiple times by someone in the BLM. Businesswoman Madeline Pickens, who made the grisly discovery, offered the BLM a solution years earlier. But Elko County is cattle country and Pickens has faced opposition at every step. Investigative reporter George Knapp has the story. Aired on Feb. 10, 2018.
Madeline Pickens’ plans to create Mustang Monument as an eco-sanctuary for wild horses and a tourist attraction for Elko County have been opposed every step of the way by the BLM and by Elko County officials.
It’s unlikely Pickens will ever reopen the resort for business even after spending $25 million to improve the ranches, ranges, forage and water supplies, but she plans to always care for the hundreds of wild horses she saved from the slaughterhouse.
In late August though, bad went to worse.
Pickens flew to a ranch after BLM told her there was a problem at Boone Spring, a mountaintop water source that was no longer operable. BLM claimed 300 mustangs were gathered around the spring and in bad shape. What they didn’t tell Pickens is that they’d already gunned down several horses, which had then been dragged into a pile and left to rot.
“These dead horses had been shot,” Pickens said. “They had multiple wounds. They were shot in the back, in the bellies, everywhere. And I was never notified of this.”
She only discovered the grisly carcasses by sending up her own drone. BLM then told her what they later told the I-Team: Eight horses were in such bad shape they had to be “humanely euthanized.”
“Euthanized? This is what you call euthanization, that is supposed to be kind and humane?” Pickens asked.
“They were shot and you know all over their bellies and their backs. It was the saddest sickest thing I’d ever seen. That broke me. It actually broke me in two when I saw that,” she said
Longtime wild horse advocate and former U.S. Senate staffer Jerry Reynoldson, who has worked for Pickens at times, has seen the BLM do some terrible things to mustangs, but nothing like this.
“George, horses that are gut shot suffer for extended periods of time,” Reynoldson said. “A horse shot in the head will die nearly an immediate death. A horse gut shot will lay on the ground and throw its legs and kick its legs for a long time and death will be very slow coming. So, there is nothing humane about this.”
In the last two years, BLM has stepped up its roundups of mustangs, and nearly all are labeled as emergencies, which allows BLM to sidestep normal procedures.
This particular emergency didn’t need to happen. For two years, Pickens has been asking BLM for permission to fix Boone Spring. She sought permission to fix the washed-out roads leading to the spring. BLM said no to both. When Pickens said she’d pay for a helicopter to bring in water troughs. The answer was the same.
“I said well, ‘OK, I tell you what, you got four troughs here and nobody’s drinking from them. How about if you would loan me one of your troughs? I will take it up the mountain to Boone Springs and I will fill it up there.’ But she says ‘No, you may not touch one of these troughs.’ She said, ‘I don’t care what you do.’ And here it was an emergency.”
We wanted to ask BLM why the horses had been shot in their stomachs and backs and elsewhere, but multiple requests for interviews were denied. In 2016, someone sabotaged another part of the Pickens ranch. They disabled the water supply and cut the fences on a 13,000-acre enclosure. A dozen or more mustangs died, the rest of the herd was scattered.
Pickens believes BLM wants her to surrender her land so it can used for cattle grazing.
Pickens once offered to take as many as 30,000 wild horses out of government pens and put them on her own 600,000-acre ranch in Elko County. That could have saved the government an estimated $100 million.