Save the Historic Free Roaming Wild Horses of Kisatchie National Forest
While free roaming wild equine herds in early settlement regions of the United States are quickly disappearing from our American landscape, they can still be found in Kisatchie National Forest (KNF), Louisiana. While each herd member is an integral part of their family band, many are also unique remnants of early horses that inhabited the Kisatchie region with homesteaders well over a century ago. The herds have remained self-sufficient on the land’s fresh water, a variety of grasses and the seclusion of dense and vast stands of trees to shelter them from the elements. Many were descended from livestock of heritage families, settlers and farmers in the area that had been used for many purposes as they toiled to carve out a rugged existence in the early years, long before Louisiana became a state in 1812. Yet Fort Polk Army Base wants to eliminate them.
The herds, previously estimated by the military to be at least 450, have roamed in Kisatchie National Forest for well over a century. Referred to by locals as Piney Horses, the horses had lived peacefully in these very remote grassy and wooded areas for as long as they can remember and are descendants of horses that had been there much longer. Horses arrived with French settlers as early as the 1690’s in the Sabine Parish area. In the years to follow 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. Reference Map “The Arrival of Horses into the Americas”: http://www.galiceno.org/history-of-horses-in-the-americas.html
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. Read about the area’s rich logging history that spans almost a century back and a 6+ acre corral site area that housed cattle, horses and mules in the southeast section of Sabine Parish, LA. Reference: http://www.sfasu.edu/heritagecenter/7552.asp
While there were others, one sawmill town in the Sabine Parish area alone had over 2000 inhabitants. Some 90 years ago, loosed horses and mules ran in Peason Ridge and other areas of Kisatchie, along with existing wild horses after wide spread logging work ceased.
In later years, loosed livestock remained after heritage families and sharecroppers were forced to leave their land, taken for Camp Polk’s military training use in the 1930’s. Additionally, while Thoroughbred cross military mounts were produced through the United States Breeding Program and imported into Louisiana to serve at Camp Polk, a smaller more compact Spanish type horse, owned by local families near Camp Polk and Peason Ridge areas have never been given their due credit for their roles as military training mounts at Camp Polk. Hundreds of local heritage families’ horses not only helped to colonize and farm Louisiana, but they also helped to PROTECT Camp Polk soldiers and our country during Camp Polk training operations, due to the shortage of imported Cavalry horses in WWII era. Reports further indicate loosed equines into the in the Kisatchie Forest during and many decades after the WWII era.
The group Pegasus Equine Guardian Association (PEGA) formed to unify efforts to preseve and protect these free roaming herds. PEGA asserts that the free roaming herds of Kisatchie have been a part of Louisiana’s local culture since its early beginnings, and therefore should have Heritage standing, as descendants of the animals that toiled alongside homesteaders that shaped the early history of parishes in and around Kisatchie National Forest. Follow PEGA here: https://pegasusequine.wordpress.com/
Given that there have been approx 40-50 commanding generals in Fort Polk’s history, PEGA and many citizens contend that the misjudgment of the current temporary general should not determine the equines’ potential demise. The Government has alleged that removal of the horses is necessary for the safety of its military training exercises. On September 28, 2015, PEGA submitted a request for public records including “statistics regarding the number of accidents that occurred as a result of the free roaming horses on the Fort Polk Base” pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A response dated February 23, 2016 indicated no record of training accidents involving any horses. Additionally, 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 that has been in effect since 2010, is in violation of state and federal regulations.
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.
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. Yet, a few high ranking officials have continued to allow the captures to continue. 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 brought portable panels have been unsuccessful; leaving the animals more skittish during future attempts. There are pens on both Fort Polk and Peason Ridge areas; however, it is unclear if some individuals are using them for captures. While a civilian contractor spokesperson for the army has continually coined these captures as “adoptions”, once captured and separated from their families and they leave KNF, in reality, these animals have been openly advertised for sale or trade, leaving them lost to anyone’s accountability for their future whereabouts.
Every year, thousands of America’s wild and domestic equines 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. They suffer due to stress and dehydration upon being hauled in crowded trailers to disease ridden feedlots many others before them were kept in; where they often compete for food and water, and 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. In past years, foals from Kisatchie were orphaned when their dams (mothers) were captured and reportedly sent to slaughter.
The aforementioned activities merit immediate concern for the Kisatchie National Forest horses. Additionally, PEGA contends that while the army has use of Kisatchie National Forest land, national forests are for the Public. The Multiple Use Sustained Yield (MUSY) Act of 1960 named multiple uses: including recreation, range, timber watershed, wildlife, and fish. The Act stated that no specific use could predominate. This carried over to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, in which scenic drives were often mentioned under Recreation. PEGA asserts that the proposed “elimination” of the Kisatchie area free roaming equines, does not fulfill the interests of the citizens who cherish their natural beauty and recognize that that their ancestors were a vital and important part of Louisiana’s history. A common ground needs to be determined that allows public interests to be preserved in Kisatchie.
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 numbers of those that remain in Kisatchie National Forest, suitable, lasting homes or in natural sanctuaries.
A few notes:
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 8,500-11,000 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. Trails carved by animals like bison and deer, in their seasonal westward migrations, 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 outbreaks among early settlements and Indians, loosed horses known as Mustangs increased in numbers and reverted back to the wild. Although thier numbers reached 2 million by the early 1800’s, tens of thousands were removed, killed or sent to slaughter in past several decades and century. 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. Since the Free Roaming and Wild Horse and Burros Act of 1971 was passed to protect our country’s free roaming equines, their numbers are now estimated to be less than 30,000 due to roundups from Public Lands, to make way for grazing cattle leases and energy agenda that only a few profit from. With the loss of wildlife, our country’s wild horses and burros 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., http://equinewelfarealliance.org/Equine_Datal.html , Louisiana Historian Rickey Robertson, numerous scientific articles and historical periodicals regarding the establishment of early Louisiana.
Written by Kimberly Sheppard 03/09/2016