Wild Horse Education

Thinking of Velma

In the spring of 1977, the health issues faced by Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) had taken their toll. By June, lung cancer and a deteriorating heart condition landed her in a hospital bed she would never leave alive. In her last months on this earth she was frustrated, biter and angry.

Today, BLM will be running a “Motorized Vehicle hearing.” Our thoughts naturally turn to Velma Johnston on a day like today. What would Velma think of how things are turning into a contract system for “population suppression” without any actual on-range management plans 50 years later?

One of the things Velma was angry about was the BLMs “Organic Act” (or the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)) that reinstated the use of motorized vehicles in the Wild Horse and Burro Program by the BLM.

In Alan Kania’s book (Wild Horse Annie) he writes:

“In the closing days of the Ninety-Fourth Congress (1975-77), a coalition of western lawmakers inserted an amendment into PL 92-195 under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The BLM now had legislative approval to use helicopters on wild horses. It was the one thing Annie had fought hard to prevent from happening, but she lost that battle… Annie’s campaign from the county courthouse in Nevada to the Capitol steps in Washington was beginning to unravel.

After Annie received word the Organic act enables the BLM to allow the use of helicopters to gather horses, the painful memories of those roundups conducted by amateurs brought out a side of Annie few people saw. Coupled with the physical pain of her health problems, Annie exhibited pent-up anger, particularly toward the government officials who turned their backs on years of negotiating a multiuse range management conservation program… Annie was also angry about the rapid growth of “wild horse and burro protection” groups that provided little benefit to her own work but collected thousands of dollars for their organizations. “She was angry with just about everything and everyone!” Helen Reilly privately explained.” (Helen Reilly worked with Velma)

Alan Kania worked with Velma and attended the first roundup at Stone Cabin with her… as a companion and a sort of bodyguard as she received threats.

Even today, Velma’s work is so often misrepresented to claim that she somehow approved of one thing or another. Velma did not “approve of” the use of helicopters, she feared it would be abused. Faced with a choice between privately permitted mustanging or an attempt to create a regulated frame for federal capture, she tried to work to create federal jurisdiction and regulations for accountability. At first BLM only did bait trapping…  and promised to create site-specific conservation plans. But then political pressure came on strong to permit “mustanging” and the fight for on-range planning was being ignored.

When we participate in hearings (like the one today) we are engaging in the first line against abuses on a path laid down by pioneers that saw a reality we can only imagine and faced trials that mirror those of today. 

To all of you that sent comments and took the time to speak… thank you. 

To all of you still working hard to gain a fair share of the resources, data-based management plans that include things like critical habitat preservation, still on the trail begun so long ago to stop abuse… thank you. 

WHE has included the inadequacy of these “hearings that are not hearings” to analyze capture methods into two lawsuits filed this month.

For those of you wanting to learn more about the path of advocacy we highly recommend Alan Kania’s book (Wild Horse Annie, Valma Johnston and her fight to save the mustang

Testimony of Velma Johnston

Why are wild horses and burros managed behind artificial boundary lines? politics, not science. 

The Motorized Vehicle Hearing (history and why it is important)

Thank you for keeping us in the fight.


Categories: Wild Horse Education