Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnson of Reno, was the leader in gaining support for new laws protecting wild horses passed by Congress. The first law enacted in 1959, prohibited the use of aircraft in capturing wild horses and burros. The second law, passed in 1971, gave wild horses and burros special protective status on all public lands. As a result, many “Mustangers” ( those who roundup wild horses and sell them to slaughter for personal profit ) descended on Storey County — one of the few places left they could still ply their trade.
In 1979, Highland residents witnessed in their very back yards, a helicopter roundup of wild horses. “Mustangers” left evidence of the wholesale slaughter of foals and older adult horses in outlying areas. Outraged, a group of Highland residents obtained approval to act as agents for the Virginia City Highlands, the Highland Ranches, and the surrounding 40 acre parcels, a total of 37,400 acres. This was the beginning of what is now the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association ( VRWPA ).
In the years since, we have tried to be a watchdog and proponent for all wildlife and lands under our jurisdiction. “Leg-hold” traps are no longer permitted in our area, old watersheds are being preserved while new ones developed, and unique ponds set aside for public use. However, the interests of the wild horses have taken most of our time and effort.
Since 1995, VRWPA has saved from development the BLM pond on Globe Rd. (used by wild horses, migrating birds and ferrie shrimp), acquired donations of land to be preserved for wildlife habitat, repaired an eroding portion of Lousetown Creek, posted signs to educate the public, developed and implemented an estray “wild” horse adoption & injured horses program for Storey County, and fought to keep legislation favorable for our Comstock Wild Horses. The ” Felony” bill was passed in the 1999 legislative session.
Today, VRWPA continues to monitor the horses, the range, and the laws to insure the survivability of a viable, ecologically balanced herd.
Key Events Timeline
Homeowners on 37,400 acres north of Virginia City formed what is now the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association (VRWPA) to preserve and protect the range and wildlife
1982 VRWPA was instrumental in revising County Statutes. Aircraft roundups were prohibited, ‘Mustanging’ (taking of estray horses for personal profit) stopped in Storey County.
Round table meetings started with State Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, VRWPA and other interest groups to discuss the possibility of a Tri-County Virginia Range Estray Horse Management group. First range study completed and horse count performed by fixed wing aircraft. No one could agree and group dissolved.
1993 VRWPA requested Storey County to form Storey County Wild Horse Control Commission to act on behalf of free roaming horses in Storey County. New County statutes were put into place.
A Cooperative Agreement between the State of Nevada, Department of Agriculture and Storey County was signed, January 10th, with support and assistance from Joe Dini allowing for Storey County to act on behalf of it’s own estray horses.
The IRS granted VRWPA’s request for 501c3 nonprofit status.
Storey County Wild Horse Commission disbanded and Storey County asked VRWPA to help with the estray horses. Three nuisance horses were successfully trapped, processed and placed into good homes to ensure complete and adequate processes were in place.
1996 Responsibility for care and post capture authority was given to VRWPA for Storey County nuisance horses placed up for adoption
Round table meetings started between State Department of Agriculture, Storey County and VRWPA to formulate a Virginia Range Estray Horse Management Plan. Memorandum of Understanding to remove horses created by the State Department of Agriculture for Counties effected by estrays was reviewed by VRWPA and recommended it not be signed by Storey County Commissioners. Storey County did not sign and the State agreed to allow Storey County to continue functioning under their original Cooperative Agreement.
At the request of Storey County, VRWPA agreed to act in ‘wild’ horse management activities County wide. Virginia Range Horse Range Area identified. VRWPA paid for a joint aerial count to establish and agree on the number of horses currently present. Virginia Range Horse Management Area identified.
34 horses were slaughtered in Storey County. VRWPA was asked by the County to coordinate calls and administer the $35,000 reward fund.
IRS approves permanent 501c3 nonprofit status for VRWPA
The State Department of Agriculture opened the holding facility for nuisance horses removed from the range at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. VRWPA helped to adopt horses out as agent for Storey County under the original Cooperative Agreement with the State. USDA National Resource Conservation Services was selected to perform range study on management area only (85,000) acres to obtain a scientific opinion on the condition of the range and make a recommendation for capacity. VRWPA paid their share of $5,000 and Storey County’s quarter $2,500. The State Department of Agriculture paid their quarter of the cost $2,500.
Range study was completed and capacity number agreed upon. Press release held to inform the public of findings and future plan to reduce number of horses on the range 550. Comstock Wild Horse Gentling program created by the State Department of Agriculture at Warm Springs Medium Security Prison.
VRWPA was asked to administer the “Inmate Scholarship Fund” and donations for equipment and supplies for the program. VRWPA was appointed feeding agent for the State Department of Agriculture to set up a winter test-feeding program in the VC Highlands.
2002 VRWPA active in rescues and winter feeding program.
2003 Signed a new agreement with the State Department of Agriculture and Storey County to act as an agent for the adoption of estray horses.Became a PMU for the Governors’ Commission for the Sage Grouse.
Started working with the State Department of Agriculture on birth control study of wild horses on the Virginia Range.Working with University of Nevada on horse behavioral study. First private sale of wild horses at Tyson’s Canyon Ranch.
In March a cooperative agreement with the NV Department of Agriculture was signed by Return to Freedom the founding organization for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. VRWPA is included in the advocacy groups and will cooperatively manage the over 2500 wild horses in the Virginia Range, living in 300,000 acres of privately owned property.