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Ex-BLM leader supports preserve for wild horses

RENO — A former U.S. Bureau of Land Management director has endorsed a proposed wild horse preserve in Nevada, saying it makes more sense than Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plan to send the animals to the Midwest.

Jim Baca, who served under President Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994, said horses should remain in the West to spare the cost of land purchases and leases associated with government-funded, long-term holding facilities in the Midwest. He noted the West has abundant BLM-managed land.

"It doesn’t make sense to send them to the Midwest when you already own the land you already need," Baca said Friday.

"The BLM should try something different. What they do now doesn’t work and has never worked."

Under the proposal by the horse advocacy group Return to Freedom and the Soldier Meadows Ranch, about 1,700 captive horses would be sent to the ranch for short-term holding before their eventual release back to the range.

The animals were gathered during a recent government roundup in the Calico Mountains Complex, which is located near the ranch about 160 miles north of Reno. The horses are being held in Fallon, where they’re being prepared for adoption or transfer to pastures in the Midwest.

Horse preserves in Nevada proposed by activist Madeleine Pickens and an Elko County ranch were earlier deemed not viable by the government.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said the latest proposal has surfaced as his agency begins seeking public comment for a new direction in its national wild horse and burro program.

The agency now is "refining specifics" for Salazar’s plan to send thousands of horses that roam the West to preserves in the Midwest and East, he said. Salazar maintains the plan is needed to protect horse herds and native wildlife and the rangelands that support them.

"We can consider that idea among others," Gorey said. "We’ll be looking at private-public partnerships that would enable us to do something creative."

Horse advocates say the proposal is intended to create a pilot program for managing horses on the range instead of shipping them to long-term facilities in the Midwest.

Plans call for Soldier Meadows owner Jim Kudrna to be reimbursed at a rate less than what the BLM is now paying for horses in long-term facilities. Exact figures haven’t been worked out yet.

Supporters hope most of the horses can later be released back to the adjoining range after improvements to it such as "horse-proofing" of natural water sources. They also hope some of Kudrna’s grazing allotments on the range can be converted for use by horses instead of livestock.

"This would be a whole new way of doing things. It’s worth a shot, it really is," Baca said. "I think it’ll be cheaper for the taxpayer. But whether it’s politically feasible, that’s absolutely the problem."

Activists complain the BLM is managing the land for the benefit of ranchers and other users at the expense of horse herds.

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