WASHINGTON (AP) _ A band of wild horses would continue to roam free on federal land in the Missouri Ozarks under a bill that Republicans pushed through the House Tuesday over objections from the Clinton administration.

The legislation was somewhat a departure for the GOP, which has generally sought to relax federal protection of land, water and wildlife. But then the administration also was in the unusual position of arguing to round up wild animals.

With strong local support, Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., successfully argued that the National Park Service should not be permitted to remove the herd of about 30 horses from the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.

``We must invoke the will of the people unto the bureaucracy, not the other way around,'' Emerson said. ``As one of the slogans about the horses back home goes, `Wild and free _ let 'em be.'''

The park service sought to remove the herd because the horses are considered a non-native breed that could damage the park. But earlier this year, officials acknowledged they had no evidence of any damage to native plant or animal life.

The horses, believed to have escaped and then reverted to a wild state, have roamed the area in south-central Missouri since at least the 1930s. The 71,000-acre park was created in 1964, and the horses have become a popular tourist attraction.

A local group, the Missouri Wild Horse League, has battled the park service since 1990 to keep the animals in their range along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. The group won an initial federal suit blocking removal, but the Park Service got the ruling reversed on appeal.

Under Emerson's bill, the Interior Department would enter an agreement with the Missouri Wild Horse League to manage and find pasture for the herd.

The herd would be capped at 50, and the league would be required to cull out any animals over that number. If the league failed to live up to terms of the deal, the park service could then step in. But the horses could not be removed until public notice were given and 180 days were permitted for response.

The action next moves to the Senate, where Sens. Christopher Bond and John Ashcroft, both Missouri Republicans, have introduced a similar measure.