Wild Vs. Horses
Vets and neighbors protest a planned SPCA horse rescue facility on a wildlife sanctuary off Highway 68.
Thursday, June 28, 2001
Horse Whiskers: Colleen Sayre of the SPCA''s Horse Power program believes rescued horses like Graystoke deserve some range to run.An ornate, adobe-style red gate guards the entrance to 1014 Salinas-Monterey Highway. Right now, the only people to cross the fenceline are the occasional horse boarder, vet or gardener. Whitney "Tinker" Stolich, a whippet-thin, Blythe Danner lookalike who lives up the winding road on the other side of the fence, hopes things stay that way.
Stolich boards 19 horses on her property--plus four of her own. There is a shelter operated by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals just down the road, and between the shelter and Stolich''s property lies a 157-acre wildlife sanctuary owned by the SPCA.
Now the SPCA wants to use between four and eight acres of the sanctuary to house its Horse Power program, which rescues and rehabilitates sick and abused horses and then puts them up for adoption.
The deal hinges on the old Munras Gate. Some neighbors, vets and, surprisingly, some horse enthusiasts, are hoping the gate stays shut.
On Thursday, July 5, the Historic Resources Review Board will asses the historic value of the Munras Gate, built by the Munras Family along with the Casa Munras Motel in the 1920s. The SPCA says the gate may need to be removed, or at least be set back from the road and widened to allow trucks and horse trailers to access the private road, which is also the entrance to Stolich''s property. Stolich has asked that the gate be placed on Monterey County''s Register of Historic Resources--a move that could halt the rescue facility in its tracks.
Stolich believes the property that borders her place is inappropriate for the horse rescue facility. Besides the issue of the gate, she says the proposed site lies on a wetland. She says Horse Power horses would be up to their knees in water six months of the year. Stolich is calling for an environmental review.
She also cites safety concerns, and worries that the water and silt that run into her pond from the property could infect her horses if sick animals are boarding at the rescue facility. She questions why the SPCA cannot keep the horses in its existing barn, just down the road, which now houses pigs and goats.
Several large-animal veterinarians, horse boarders and neighbors have also written letters to the County Board of Supervisors arguing these points.
"I''m not saying that the program is no good--they do something very worthwhile. It''s just that they are choosing the wrong piece of property," says Stolich, a self-described horse lover who has lived above the highway for 29 years. "Somebody will be killed and it scares me to think about it."
Stolich says that if the SPCA gets the go-ahead, traffic on Munras Gate Road will increase, and horse trailers driving in and out onto busy Highway 68 will pose safety hazards.
The Munras Gate, located about 1,500 feet west of the main SPCA entrance on Highway 68, opens onto an access road with an easement serving Stolich''s adjacent residential property. The SPCA wants to use this entrance to access the proposed facility, which is slated to include a 16-stall barn, hay shed, riding corral and training pen above the agency''s existing shelter. Six fenced pasture areas, ranging in size from one-half acre to 1.4 acres, are also proposed.
"We''re talking about a maximum of eight acres if all the pastures were 1.4 acre--and they won''t be," says SPCA Executive Director Gary Tiscornia.
To ease the traffic concerns, the SPCA proposes turn-outs along the single-lane road. Caltrans also recom- mends relocating the gate further back from Highway 68.
"Some people have alleged that we want to tear down the gate, and that''s untrue," Tiscornia says. "We like it and we want to make sure it stays a part of the property."
There''s also the land-use issue. Lady Kinnoull, a Monterey County resident and benefactor of the SPCA, donated 158 acres of land to the organization in 1972 to be used as a sanctuary for wild animals native to the area, including deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, badgers and coyotes.
Executive director of the SPCA at the time, Gwendolyn R. May, told the Monterey Herald that the space was intended to allow wildlife to "run free and completely protected," adding that "20 years from now, there may not be an inch of land anywhere else in the area where the wild animals, large and small, may run free."
Prior to the donation of the large parcel of land, the SPCA had 26 acres of property on which domestic animals such as horses, pigs and goats were kept. Lady Kinnoull also donated $50,000 to fence the property and the land--"to keep people out."
Stolich says the SPCA''s assurance that the land next door would remain a wildlife refuge was one of the reasons she purchased her property.
"In those days we all shook hands," she remembers. "Now you need a document in triplicate."
At press time, the horse rescue facility is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on July 11. It''s been postponed twice, and has been met with questionable support from commissioners.
At the April 25 meeting, Commissioner John Wilmot advised the SPCA to look elsewhere, asking why the organization would want to build a horse facility on "environmentally sensitive land" when Fort Ord already has an equestrian center and additional space for such a facility.
At the June 13 meeting, Commissioner Robert Hernandez asked if the SPCA had begun to seek a "less controversial location."
"It makes no sense to lease when we own 214 acres right here," says Tiscornia. Currently, SPCA''s Horse Power program leases land in Santa Cruz County at Moon Valley Ranch in Watsonville.
Across the county line, Horse Power program coordinator Colleen Sayre nuzzles a small Arabian named Graystoke, one of 10 horses up for adoption at the current facility.
"Our primary goal is to get onto the SPCA property and get these horses out of these small pens. These horses aren''t turned out to pasture--we don''t have the space here."
Adds Tiscornia, "I think [Lady] Kinnoull would be happy with any animal use. The bottom line for us is that multiple uses can exist side by side."
"I am totally against it," says Genie Row, who boards her horses on Stolich''s property. "This land should be for wildlife. If Horse Power goes in, with barns and stalls and corrals and training facilities, there go all the mountain lions, there go all the bears, there go all the wild animals, right back into a situation where a man has brought on new developments, and they are pushed back even more."