The beauty of the treasured free roaming horses that have lived and bred in the wilds of Kisatchie National Forest has drawn many admirers that have followed them for many decades. While each of these equines are a fascinating, integral part of their family bands within their herds, some are also unique remnants of early horses that inhabited the regions of Kisatchie over a century ago.
Not only were hundreds of local heritage families’ animals used by the military in WWII, due to the shortage of cavalry horses, but horses and mules served as locomotion to support the area’s massive logging industry, that is historically recorded as the foremost business for Vernon Parish and surrounding areas in the early 1900’s. The roots of some of these equines actually go back even further, to Louisiana’s earliest settlers and Native Americans.
As with many equine herds in other areas of the United States, for many decades, remnants of Louisiana’s early history in what would become Sabine and surrounding Parishes, exist as free roaming herds in the lands of Kisatchie, that provided fresh water, a variety of grasses and food supply and the seclusion of dense and vast stands of trees to shelter them from the elements and hunters. Their ancestors actually were in Kisatchie long before Louisiana became a state in 1812.
Some were descendants of livestock of settlers and farmers in the area that had been used many purposes, as they toiled to carve out a rugged existence in the early years. Indeed, horses had already arrived with French settlers in the Sabine Parish area, while hundreds of animals, regarded in modern times as Spanish Colonial Horses, were brought north and east, across Louisiana by the Comanche and traded with other existing tribes and settlers to the north and eastward, past the Mississippi as early as the 1690’s.
For over the past three hundred years, as in recent decades, horses have been left by locals to live amongst the roaming herds. Local law enforcement has indicated there is not enough manpower to enforce Louisiana Animal Cruelty statutes regarding their abandonment, adding to the increasing population of equines in Kisatchie National Forest.
When what is really needed is intervention, they all are in danger. The United States Army wants to eliminate them. Reference: http://www.jrtc-polk.army.mil/Main_Page_Docs/Trespass_Horses/Notice_of_Intent_to_Eliminate_Trespass_Horses.pdf
While at the Army’s request, multiple advocates submitted proposals and offers to help these animals earlier this past fall, and it was announced that no decision would be made until after the first of the year, directives of a few high ranking Army officials, have already been allowing captures of these equines.
Not only do the current captures leave the animals at high risk for injury, but a ranger indicated that some attempts at captures and loading by individuals who have been advised to bring their own portable panels have been unsuccessful; leaving the animals more skittish and wary during future attempts. There are enclosed areas and pens in the Fort Polk Base and Peason Ridge area; it is unclear if some individuals may be using them for captures.
While civilian contractor spokespersons for the Army have continually coined these captures as “adoptions”, once captured and separated from their families and they leave Kisatchie, in reality, these animals are being advertised for sale or trade, leaving them lost to anyone’s accountability for their future whereabouts.
In past years, foals from Kisatchie were orphaned when their dams (mothers) were captured and sent to slaughter. As with thousands of other of America’s wild and domestic horses that are shuffled through the hands of multiple individuals in the horse trader business, they are pulled from everything they know and some eventually pass through wrong hands into the dangers of legal sale into the horse slaughter industry, where over 147,000 United States equines perished in 2014 alone; just as these foals’ dams from Kisatchie were.
Countless equines suffer due to stress and dehydration once they reach the larger disease ridden feedlots many others before them were kept in; where they often compete for food and water, causing lower immunity. Equines of all ages often contract contagious viruses and respiratory illness, fever, colic, fungal, mange or bacterial skin infections from wounds they have endured, before meeting brutal practices in Mexican non European Union regulated slaughter plants.
The aforementioned activities merit immediate concern for the Kisatchie National Forest horses.
To help remedy some of these animal welfare issues, a new organization devoted toward protection of the Fort Polk Kisatchie Horses, has formed. Pegasus Equine Guardian Association (PEGA) asserts that the free roaming herds of Kisatchie have been a part of Louisiana’s local culture since its early beginnings, and that they are representatives of the animals that toiled alongside the hardy homesteaders and heritage families, whose hard work shaped the early history of parishes in and around Kisatchie National Forest.
PEGA also asserts that while it is understood that the Army determined a need to reduce the herd numbers on its land within Kisatchie, Federal and State Animal Cruelty laws are the legal mandate for humane handling of equines; and the Army or it’s agents are not exempt from compliance to these laws. Therefore, the immediate halt of the captures is merited.
Additionally, the public’s outcry and engagement is needed to help insure open dialogue with the Army, its agents or U.S. Forestry, to determine best practice strategy and actions, that will insure humane treatment of all equines; and that also meet ongoing objectives to preserve their habitat; and to facilitate legitimate adoptions, where the future welfare of the equines and the safety of the public and those enlisted at Fort Polk is paramount.
The Government alleges that removal of the horses is necessary for the safety of its military training exercises. On September 28, 2015, a request for public records including “statistics regarding the number of accidents that occurred as a result of the roaming horses on the Fort Polk Base” was submitted pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, no records pertaining to training accidents on base were provided.
Cease and desist request letters were sent on October 14, 2015, and December 4, 2015 in an effort to communicate to the Government that it is PEGA’s belief that its equine capture program is in violation of state and federal regulations. Again, no response to the letters has been received. PEGA is hopeful that the Army will cease the elimination of the equines, as these captures do not fulfill the interests of humane animal welfare, or those of the citizens, whose ancestors, shaped and were a part of early Louisiana.
PEGA and other advocates would like to be a resource to help humanely manage the animals that are in need of adoption or care, using low stress livestock handling techniques, in order to facilitate any needed legitimate adoptions, and to document their numbers in suitable, lasting homes, natural sanctuaries, and in Kisatchie National Forest.
A few notes about Horses: Unlike ruminant species such as cattle and white tailed deer that completely break down ingested seeds, migratory equines that are non ruminants deposit plant seeds in their droppings, helping to proliferate ground cover that helps prevent erosion.
The modern horse, E. caballus, an originally native species to North America became extinct 11,000 years ago and was re introduced by the Spaniards to the coastal Islands and mainland of the Southeastern United States by the early 1500’s. The trails carved by animals like bison and deer, in their seasonal westward migrations, caused many traceable paths that were followed by explorers, pioneers, and Native Americans into the American Wilderness; that brought numbers of these highly adaptable horses from the South and East, to the Great Plains. After Smallpox and other outbreaks among early settlements and Indians, loosed horses known as Mustangs increased in numbers and reverted back to the wild, with numbers reaching 2 million by the early 1800’s, but have been gradually removed; some have been sent to slaughter in past decades.
Since the early 1970’s, many species of wildlife and plants have been excessively hunted or eliminated, forever changing our ecosystems’ fragile dynamics and our American landscape. Similarly, since the Free Roaming and Wild Horse and Burros Act of 1971, passed to protect them, in 2015, free roaming equine numbers are now estimated to be less than 30,000 due to roundups that have made way for grazing cattle leases and energy agenda. With the loss of wildlife, our country’s free roaming equines, and degraded ecology, what legacy will be left for our children?
Author’s note: Research references for this writing include Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., numerous Scientific articles, and Historical periodicals regarding the establishment of early Louisiana as well as data collected from Equine Welfare Alliance.
By Kimberly Sheppard
Update: Update: A recent report revealed substantial burnings during week ending 12/12/2015, in the Peason Ridge area that Fort Polk owns or manages. The burning and other activities have driven the equines to unburned food sources, including other areas of the forest, closer to roads and closer to catch pen areas; at least one of which is managed by Environmental Services and was constructed this past summer. kcs
#Louisiana #Kisatchie #FortPolk #PEGA #Horses #FPHK