I-Team: Horse Sanctuary Faces Lengthy Delays

LAS VEGAS -- For every 35 international tourists, one Nevada job is created. That's the latest numbers from the state's top political leaders, hoping to promote international tourism.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid heard from Nevada business leaders today. The meeting was behind closed doors at the Springs Preserve.

One topic discussed was eco-tourism. Nevada is filled with natural landmarks and parks, but one tourism destination facing years of federal delays before it ever opens up. Earlier this year, the I-Team took you to Northern Nevada, where a wealthy philanthropist is using her own money to set up a large eco-sanctuary for Nevada's wild mustangs.

Madeline Pickens plans to open the horse sanctuary to the public, inviting tourists. With more than half of the continent's wild horses in Nevada, the Silver State has the potential to become the equestrian state for tourists.

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp highlighted Pickens' plan to open a 500,000 acre horse ranch. For three years, Pickens has been asking for Bureau of Land Management permission to create an eco-sanctuary open to tourists to be home to thousands of mustangs.

She's put $13 million of her own money to get it off the ground, and hears it may take two more years for federal approval.

"They have a few problems. Elko County passed a resolution. They don't want it. There's some issues to work through, but I've talked to her many times and admire her tenacity and her willingness to spend some money," said Senator Harry Reid.

But with eco-tourism one of the main topics at the conference, Secretary Salazar could provide some answers. He could fast-track the eco-sanctuary, considering the BLM is within his department.

"In terms of Madeleine's proposal, it's being considered by the BLM, along with other proposals that have come in. Other questions on the travel -- I'm going to ask you to limit your questions to travel and tourism. If you have other questions outside of travel and tourism, I'm happy to take them up later," he said.

Secretary Salazar did not think tourists coming to Nevada to see horses was a topic of the tourism conference.

"We don't have any time. If you want to follow up, (talk) with the BLM on the eco-sanctuaries," said an aide.

8 News NOW will continue to follow up with the BLM about Pickens' plan. At last check, the BLM answered "no comment" to questions about the sanctuary. That was two months ago.


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