Why Mustangs Need Our Help and What We Can Do
The federal government has been charged with protecting our wild horses and burros since 1971 when Wild Horse Annie (Velma Bronn Johnston) raised awareness of the atrocities enacted against the wild herds. A federal law was passed ensuring our Mustangs would be safe from harm of slaughter. Today however, the BLM has recently and against public protest, modified the laws established that opens the door for unrestricted sale of our horses. This new BLM policy allows the sale of up to 24 federally protected wild horses and/or burros daily, by the same buyers, without special approval. Coincidentally, 24 is the load capacity of one horse transport truck that is used by kill buyers. Under this policy, just one meat buyer could purchase over 8,000 of our American mustangs per year to be sold and slaughtered in Canada and Mexico. Forest Services in Devil’s Garden have announced that several hundred recently captured horses will be sold for as little as $1 each, which is guaranteed to be mostly the kill buyers. These buyers export live horses out of the country where their lives are ended in the most inhumane way.
Click here to learn more about the Devils Garden Roundup
A study in December 2018 shows that the numbers of horses being shipped to Mexico for slaughter has increased from previous years. Click here to read more.
Velma Bronn Johnston aka “Wild Horse Annie”
Published by The Nevada’s Women’s History Project, Nevada
Velma Johnston was a Nevadan of pioneer heritage, born in Reno, March 5, 1912, oldest of four, to parents Joseph Bronn (saved as an infant by the milk of a mustang mare coming across the deserts in a covered wagon) and mother Gertrude Clay. Her father operated a freighting service using many horses, some of mustang lineage.
In 1923, at the tender age of 11, Velma became disfigured after having to spend months in a cast in a San Francisco hospital when being treated for polio. This experience gave her great empathy for confined and suffering animals. Having much time to herself in her youth, she devoted herself to caring for animals on her parents’ ranch. She avidly pursued learning, but was often cruelly taunted by children in her classes because of her disfigurement. She also greatly enjoyed composing poetry and drawing. Velma married a neighbor — strong, six-foot-four Charlie Johnston, part Delaware Indian — who took over her father’s ranch along the Truckee River near Wadsworth (the Double Lazy Heart Ranch). Unable to have children of their own, Velma and Charlie operated a sort of dude ranch for young people which included troubled city youth. This experience gave them great joy. For over forty years, Velma worked as a secretary for Reno insurance executive, Gordon Harris.
In 1950, while driving to work one morning, Velma witnessed a gruesome scene: Wild horses crammed into a truck destined for a pet food slaughterhouse. Blood oozing from the truck revealed a yearling being trampled to death. She decided to expose this to the public eye. The massive wild horse and burro clearances from the Western public lands of the mid-1900s involved airplanes and many WWII pilots. They operated in conjunction with truck drivers and were aided by cowboys with lassoes and heavy truck tires. Being an astute executive secretary, Annie set about amassing a legion of facts and evidence which she neatly organized into very effective presentations to all economic and social branches of society. She adroitly cultivated many contacts, from school children to ranchers to businessmen, biologists, and politicians.
Both a charming and a commanding public speaker, Velma delivered her message with passionate conviction, inspiring in her listeners a sense of justice and compassion for the wild horses. She began her campaign in her home Storey County. In 1952, with help from prominent citizens and after fiery meetings in Virginia City, she earned her nickname, “Wild Horse Annie”.
In 1955, her campaign in the Nevada State Legislature led to a bill banning aircraft and land vehicles from capturing wild horses on state lands. Unfortunately, this left the wild horses on 86% of Nevada lands, as well as on the public lands of other Western states, unprotected since these lands were largely under federal jurisdiction. Seeing that these indiscriminate wild equid roundups continued to supply the pet food industry, indefatigable Annie aroused public indignation and support for the first federal law to protect wild horses. This was accomplished in 1959 with support from Nevada ‘s U.S. Representative Walter S. Baring. He prohibited the use of any form of motorized vehicles as well as the poisoning of water holes done either to capture or kill wild horses. The law is known as the Wild Horse Annie Act (click here to read the actual verbiage of P.L. 86-234).
By the mid-1960s, it became apparent that P.L. 86-234 was not enough to protect wild horses because they continued to rapidly lose ground in the West. Of pivotal importance in Annie’s determination to continue with the fight was the failure to obtain a conviction for a well-documented violation of the Act involving a wild horse roundup in Central Nevada and subsequent shipping of the animals to a Fallon slaughter house. This inspired Annie all the more to bring justice for horses. She felt strongly that they had a right to remain in viable numbers on public lands.
In spite of her husband Charlie’s untimely death from emphysema and by means of a meticulously organized campaign involving many audio-visual presentations to schools and civic gatherings, plus a widespread letter-writing and illustrated fact sheets distribution, Annie convinced thousands of people of all ages and walks of life to advocate for wild horses. Congress received more letters on this issue than any other, save the Vietnam War. Annie herself testified before Congress. The result was the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (P.L. 92-195) which was unanimously passed and signed into law in 1971. This gave the wild equids protection on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands “where found” at the time of the passage of the Act in 303 areas.
Another of Annie’s major accomplishments was to see the establishment of special wild horse refuges, some coming before the Act. The largest such refuge, established in 1966, lies within the vast Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada. The historically significant Pryor Mountain Range, established in 1968, on the Montana-Wyoming border, and picturesque Little Bookcliffs Refuge (dedicated to Annie) near Palisade, Colorado, are two other such sanctuaries.
During her lifetime, Annie and her dedicated assistants kept a rigorous vigilance on the equid herds to assure their fair treatment. The files of the two organizations she established, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (established before the 1971 Act) and Wild Horses Organized Assistance (established after the 1971 Act), include meticulous field notes (many by Annie herself), maps, and photographs of horse/burro spottings (along with individual descriptions of the animals and their activities), witness testimonies, and other documents.
After her husband’s death, Annie lived with her mother “Trudie” in her home overlooking Reno where she loved to garden. But her standing up for the wild ones had made her the subject of many vicious attacks, including threats to her life. On June 27, 1977, she passed away after bravely fighting a losing battle with cancer. She was 65 years old.
Make your voice heard
Protect our Wild Mustangs from Slaughter.
BE A VOICE FOR OUR WILD HORSES AND BURROWS AND LET THE GOVERNMENT KNOW YOU WANT OUR WILD ANIMALS TO REMAIN WILD AND MANAGED ON OUR PUBLIC LANDS. LET THEM KNOW THAT YOU WILL VOTE TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY ARE AFFORDED THE PROTECTIONS THAT THEY DESERVE AND HAVE BEEN GIVEN PREVIOUSLY. CONSTANT ROUNDUPS AND HOLDING OUR WILD MUSTANGS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION!
Right now, in Congress members are working on a 2019 APPROPRIATIONS bill that will directly affect the lives of thousands of mustangs and burros. Call your elected representatives to ensure that protections against mass killing and slaughter of our wild horses are maintained. Very sadly, they voted in the house for language which gravely threatens our wild horses and we need to head this off in the senate now.
YOUR VOICE IS NEEDED RIGHT NOW:
Call your senator today (202-224-3121) and say “As your constituent I am calling to ask Senator _________to work with leadership to oppose any amendment to the FY19 Interior Appropriations bill allowing BLM to kill or sterilize wild horses and burros and want them protected and humanely managed on our public lands. Thank you.”
Tell your congressman or woman to support the SAFE Act. House bill 1942 Safeguard American Food act would prevent the shipment of horses across our borders to slaughter in Mexico, Canada and globally. The bill has support in Congress, but the committee it is in is controlled by special interests and a small group of legislators are preventing it from getting out of committee to the house vote. It is hardly a democratic process when you have that many legislators co-sponsoring a bill and members of this small committee still refusing to let it out to a fair vote. The 11 people in this committee are stopping this bill from getting a fair chance.
Also, please support the Horse Transportation Safety Act (H.R. 4040) to ban hauling horses on double-deck trailers under all circumstances.