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JRTC and Fort Polk, Public Affairs Office,
Attention: Public Response,
7033 Magnolia Drive Bldg. 4919
Fort Polk, LA 71459
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Be respectful, there’s no one but us to help these horses.
On May 4, 2016 General Timothy McGuire (who inflamed this situation), relinquished his command of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center to incoming Brigadier General Gary M. Brito, at Fort Polk Army Base near Leesville, Louisiana. Many hope that General Brito will be understanding of national concerns over welfare and humane treatment of the free-roaming equines at Fort Polk and Kisatchie National Forest that are now in danger of being captured or sold at auction and shipped to slaughter in Mexico, because of the plans the previous general (McGuire) put into action.
Over 100,000 acres of Kisatchie National Forest lands are owned by the army. Fort Polk is a training and deployment facility for thousands of troops. There are two uniquely different free roaming herds that migrate and forage on thousands of acres within Kisatchie. One is at Fort Polk and the other at Peason Ridge. The army owns much of the land between them. Although the army had historically referred to the horses as “wild”, they attempted to declare them as “trespass horses” in an effort to strip them of any protection under the Federal Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act. While the federal government alleged that removal of the horses was necessary for the safety of its military training exercises, no records provided in a FOIA response, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, indicated a connection between horses and it’s training accidents in the history of Fort Polk. Public concern increased because last year, the army claimed their numbers were at least 450, if not many more.
However, there now may be less than half remaining. Under McGuire’s command, Fort Polk army officials indicated in August of last year that no action would be taken to remove the horses until after their announcement. But eyewitness reports indicate that the army not only has continued to allow captures of the horses by individuals (including horse traders that sell horses for slaughter), but many horses have been removed for decades. Documented reports indicate that capture attempts included the use of tranquilizer darts and rough handling that resulted in injuries, or even in the death. By the army’s own admission, no effort has been made to track the animals’ whereabouts after their removal, or to prevent them from being shipped to slaughter after future transfers of ownership occur. Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, (PEGA) a registered Louisiana non-profit organization asserts that the free roaming herds have been a part of Louisiana’s local culture of heritage families that shaped the history of parishes in and around Kisatchie National Forest since its early beginnings, and that if the removals are not stopped, the horses may be gone before any plan to save or move them can be put into action. Multiple on site 2016 reports have consistently indicated scarce amounts both in the training areas at Fort Polk, as well as up at Peason Ridge. Because the army has not fully complied with 3 FOIA requests regarding the equines and army spokespersons or officials have not been fully transparent with requested information, concerns continue over the diminished numbers of remaining horses, as they are extremely scarce. One report indicated the army rounded up many of the horses to be sterilized, which is not an appropriate alternative for horses living in the wild. Along with serious concerns over humane treatment during such procedures in non-sterile settings, gene pools and hormonal instinctual behaviors that wild-living equines depend on for their very survival and natural selection are significantly altered when stallions are gelded or mares are spayed or sterilized. Others have speculated some horses may have been destroyed. Many concerned citizens are wondering what is really going on and they want answers.
To understand the importance of these horses, a brief history is in order. Some horses in the Kisatchie region are believed to be descendants of those that had been brought there long ago. This region holds much Native American history and is one of the settlement cradles in early America that hunters came through, while others raised families, farmed and raised livestock through generations, including the logging and livestock railroad trade era of the early 1900’s. Horses and mules were released into the forest in Peason Ridge to run with existing wild horses after logging ceased in the 1920’s: http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Publications/region/8/kisatchie/History_1994/A_History_of_Kisatchie.pdf Others were later loosed when heritage families left after their farms and land were taken for Camp Polk’s military training use in the 1930s: http://www.polkhistory.org/publications/Publications/Remembering%20Fort%20Polk%20Heritage%202007.pdf
Equines freely roamed the Kisatchie National Forest after the WWI and WWII eras. Hundreds of horses, along with mules that belonged to heritage families and civilians were pressed into service at Camp Polk, because of the shortage of cavalry horses. They were used as remounts. Unlike cavalry horses that were retired at Fort Riley, Kansas, many were reportedly loosed when the army no longer had use for them and locals contend the horses have lived peacefully in the grassy and wooded Kisatchie areas for as long as their ancestors could remember. There is no evidence whatsoever that the horses ever left and even the army historically had referred to the free roaming herds, as “Wild Horses.” In addition to the FOIA request for information including training accident statistics involving horses, PEGA also sent cease and desist request letters October and December of 2015, in an effort to communicate to the Federal Government that the Army’s Equine Capture program is in violation of state and federal regulations. A complaint that included an application for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Louisiana was filed on December 21, 2015. The action was filed against the U.S. Army, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service to make them aware of concerns, and to stop plans to remove the horses. PEGA’S suit also requested the army’s current equine capture program cease until the matter was ruled on by the court. Further, an educational institution and an attorney from an organization that provides legal defense on behalf of animal welfare issues, also issued two other FOIA requests earlier this year. While the suit PEGA filed was not resolved, the FOIA responses submitted by these institutions were also received, but the army and other involved parties again did not fully comply with providing the requested information. Federal and state animal cruelty laws contain legal mandates for humane handling of equines, which PEGA believes are not being followed by those the army has allowed to capture the horses. PEGA contends the army and its agents are not exempt from compliance with these laws, and seeks the immediate halt of the captures. Not only do the captured equines carry no identification, but no documentation is provided to validate their whereabouts. PEGA also asserts that the captures violate Louisiana humane animal welfare laws and the interests of local citizens, whose ancestors were a part of early Louisiana. https://www.animallaw.info/statute/la-cruelty-consolidated-cruelty-statutes PEGA and other advocates would like to see the horses remain as free- roaming and possibly be relocated to another area of Kisatchie National Forest. PEGA and several working together with the army and KNF, could serve as a resource to help humanely manage animals that truly are in need of care or adoption, through the use of low stress livestock handling techniques, wherever human intervention is actually needed. Immediate public support and help is needed to help insure an open dialogue with the U.S. Army and U.S. Forestry Service, so that best practice actions achieve non-harming, humane treatment of the equines and their habitat is preserved, while the safety of those enlisted at Fort Polk remains paramount.
Please see below for submitting comments. Please be respectful so you CAN be their Voice!!!
1) Leave a comment on the actual news article, here: http://www.leesvilledailyleader.com/news/20160430/fort-polk-drafts-plan-for-getting-rid-of-trespass-horses#loadComment
2) Mail comments or email them to Fort Polk email: firstname.lastname@example.org ** Copy email@example.com
3) The EA and draft FNSI are available here: http://www.jrtc-polk.army.mil/trespass_horses.html
4) SHARE THIS POST! PEGA’s efforts can be followed at: https://pegasusequine.wordpress.com/ Read more here: https://www.facebook.com/Fort-Polk-Horses-of-Kisatchie-1484973435133037/
By Kimberly Sheppard May 5, 2016. This note will be updated as needed.