(WASHINGTON POST) When Velma Johnston almost single-handedly persuaded Congress to pass the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, her goal was to protect an icon of the American West that had been slaughtered, poisoned and abused and was quickly disappearing.
More than four decades later, the woman known as “Wild Horse Annie” would undoubtedly be shocked by what her law has wrought: so many mustangs, stashed in so many places, that authorities admit they have no idea how to handle them all.
Under the law, the federal government is responsible for more than 40,000 mustangs on the range in 10 Western states, where they compete with cattle and wildlife for increasingly scarce water and forage. The public desire to adopt them is limited. Contraceptive efforts have largely failed. U.S. law — reaffirmed this month — effectively precludes slaughtering them, or selling them to anyone who would. Activists want the horses left on the land.
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