During the 1950s in Nevada, Velma B. Johnston, later known as Wild Horse Annie, became aware of the ruthless and indiscriminate manner in which wild horses were being rounded-up from the rangelands. Ranchers, hunters and “mustangers” played a major role in harvesting wild horses for commercial purposes.
Wild Horse Annie led a grassroots campaign, involving mostly school children, that outraged the public and ultimately got them fully engaged in the issue. Newspapers published articles about the exploitation of wild horses and burros and, as noted in a July 15, 1959, Associated Press article, “Seldom has an issue touched such a responsive chord.”
In January 1959, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring introduced a bill prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on all public lands. The House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill which became known as the “Wild Horse Annie Act.” The bill became Public Law 86-234 on Sept. 8, 1959; however, it did not include Annie’s recommendation that Congress initiate a program to protect, manage, and control wild horses and burros. Public interest and concern continued to mount, and with it came the realization that federal management, protection, and control of wild horses and burros was essential.
In response to public outcry, members of both the Senate and the House introduced a bill in the 92nd Congress to provide for the necessary management, protection, and control of the wild horses and burros. The Senate unanimously passed the bill on June 19, 1971. After making some revisions and adding a few amendments, the House also passed the bill by unanimous vote. Former President Richard M. Nixon signed the bill into law on December 15, 1971. The new law became Public Law 92-195, The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. This Act was later amended by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act.
Public Law 94-579, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, dated Oct. 21, 1976, allowed the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to use or contract for the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles to manage wild horses and burros on public lands.
Public Law 95-514, the Public Rangelands Improvement Act, established and reaffirmed:
1) the need for inventory and identification of current public rangeland conditions (monitoring);
2) the management, maintenance and improvement of the condition of public rangelands to productively support all rangeland values;
3) continuance of the law protecting wild free-roaming horses and burros from capture, branding, harassment or death, while at the same time facilitating the removal and disposal of excess wild free-roaming horses and burros which pose a threat to themselves and their habitat and;
4) the transfer of title after one year to individuals who had adopted wild horses and burros removed from public rangelands, provided the animals had received proper and humane care and treatment during that year.