- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2016

EMINENCE, Mo. (AP) - Paddlers on a couple of rivers in southern Missouri may cross paths with wild horses, and a federal law now two decades old is being credited for what locals consider a tourist draw.

The horses have been roaming freely near the Jacks Fork and Current rivers in Shannon County for more than a century, the Springfield News-Leader (https://j.mp/2axskrX ) has reported.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a U.S. law that protects the horses and kept the National Park Service from removing them from Ozark National Scenic Riverways land.

A Poplar Bluff attorney, Doug Kennedy, got an injunction to block the wild herd’s removal, recalling that “I didn’t like the fact that the government was messing with something everyone seemed to love.” After the park service won on appeal, Kennedy said his request that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene failed.

“When the Supreme Court wouldn’t hear the case we thought that was it,” Kennedy recalls.



But a public outcry followed, including 3,000 people - 500 on horseback - marching and riding down a federal highway to Park Service offices in Van Buren.

The federal law in 1996 ultimately barred the animals’ removal, with then-President Bill Clinton noting that the horses had become part of the riverways area. That measure also authorized the Missouri Wild Horse League to look after the herd’s health and welfare.

As a compromise with the park service, the herd’s size was capped at 50 horses. When the herd surpasses that number, the Eminence-based Wild Horse League rustles up some of the younger horses and offers them up for adoption nationwide.

“I’m 80 years old and there’s always been horses in the woods that nobody owned,” said Bill Smith, the horse league’s vice president. “I was part of the movement to keep ‘em from being removed. They’re unique to this area. It’s kinda nice to have them around this part of the country. It’s part of the area’s heritage.”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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