An Uncertain Future for Ft. Polk’s Horses

By Elsa Gillis as published and seen on KTBS.com

“It hurt my heart because I couldn’t imagine these majestic herds of animals being rounded up…”

FtPolkFT. POLK, La. – Fort Polk, Louisiana is a sprawling, 240,000 acre army post where wild horses have been running free for decades.  But that could soon come to a halt.

The army wants them gone. It says the horse population has grown too big and is creating a safety hazard. But the army is meeting resistance from people who say the horses have played too big a role in our nation’s history to be gotten rid of.

After being alerted to this story, we went to the community where the horses roam – to speak with concerned citizens.

“It hurt my heart because I couldn’t imagine these majestic herds of animals being rounded up, shipped out of there,” says board member of the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association Mary Brocato.  “And I knew that many of these horses were going to die.”

Brocato first saw the horse population in may, during a tour with a Fort Polk Commander and local historian.

“We were told that they were descendants of cavalry horses that had been injured or were lame during training exercises during World War II in 1941, and instead of treating the horses, they turned them loose.”

A local historian who has studied Ft. Polk’s cavalry history writes… “Beginning in 1941, the US Army held the largest maneuvers ever held in the history of the army here in Louisiana. Camp Polk was built to support this large maneuver and training area.  An important part of this maneuver…was 2 divisions of mounted horse cavalry.”

The says they were eventually turned loose – and over the years have run wild along with horses that are descendants of what are called heritage families. Those are people whose lands were seized by the army years ago, and had to leave behind their animals.

“They’re a treasure, they’re not a pest to get rid of. These horses are part of the heritage, the culture and the history of that area. And they need to stay where they are, they’re not hurting anyone,” says Brocato.

But the army sees it differently.  We spoke with Col. Brian Sullivan, Fort Polk’s Chief of Staff.

“They currently present a training distraction to our rotational units going through the training center and a safety hazard,” says Col. Sullivan.  “The training distraction is real  in terms of the efforts we have to make in order to move the herd to either conduct an air land, or air assault, or airborne assault, into these large open areas where the herds congregate.”

He says there have not been any documented accidents or safety issues related to the horses at this point.

Col. Sullivan says there are an estimated 700 wild horses on or near Fort Polk, a that number’s expected to double in 10 years.

KTBS 3 went out to see if we could find some of the horses, and we did.  Right near Ft. Polk property, a small group ran by.  All involved parties agree that something needs to be done about the horse population, but the disagreement comes over the solution, and origin of the problem.

First disagreement – whether they are wild horses, protected by federal law from branding, harassment or death.  The army considers them “trespass” horses, and not protected.

A federal appeals court has sided with the army.

Second disagreement:  where these horses come from.

“There’s no lineage to WWII or connotation associated with heritage horses. Most of these horses are horses that have simply been abandoned on our training area,” says Col. Sullivan.

“There’s a lot of talk about there being dumped horses, and they probably, in all fairness take up a small percentage of the herds..but from photographing them and interviewing other people, a majority of these are wild horses that have been there for years and years,” says Teresa, a Leesville resident and animal lover who’s gotten involved in this situation.

We asked Col. Sullivan how the army knows the horses are not descendants of cavalry horses or heritage family horses.

“Again what’s most important is that they’ve been determined trespass horses by the court and any protection provided by the act does not apply.”

We also asked what happened to the cavalry and heritage family horses.

“We don’t know, but again, it’s trespass horses we’ve had the courts help us categorize these particular animals,” says Col. Sullivan.

While the army has decided to get rid of the horses, a public comment period on how to do it ends the first week of September.  And that’s where the real concern comes in.

“These are wild horses. These are not horses that can be domesticated, they can’t be trained, they can’t be broken, they’re not for pets, they’re not for riding,” says Brocato.

Mary and Teresa are concerned some of the horses could end up at slaughterhouses, something we asked Col. Sullivan about.

He says they currently give out permits for people to capture horses on the post—but there is a four horse per year limit, and they must sign an agreement that prohibits slaughtering the animals.  But there’s no mechanism to track what happens after they’re sold.

He says capture permits and attempts to sterilize the horses have not controlled the horse population.

Still, Teresa says there are too many unanswered questions to come up with a solution just yet.

“It’s hard to pin down the number of horses, where they came from….you can’t solve a problem if the waters all muddy.”

One thing both sides agree on is the safety of soldiers. How to get there is where they differ.  Advocates for the horses would like to see the abandoned ones adopted out, and find a way to keep the wild horses away from training grounds.  After the public comment period ends, Fort Polk officials will present options to the Commanding General.  He will announce his decision in January and it will be followed by another public input period.

8 comments on “An Uncertain Future for Ft. Polk’s Horses

  1. What will happen to Fort Polk’s wild horses?
    http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/news/local/2015/08/14/fate-fort-polks-wild-horses-debated/31728373/

    Members of the public can submit comments or suggestions on the possible removal of the horses until Sept. 5. They can be submitted by email to usarmy.polk.imcom.mbx.pao-public-response@mail.mil or by mail to:

    JRTC and Fort Polk
    Public Affairs Office
    Attention: Public Response
    7033 Magnolia Drive Bldg. 4919
    Fort Polk, LA 71459

    A plan of action will be developed, taking into account public input, and analyzed. A draft of the plan will be presented to the public again for input.
    Brig. Gen. Timothy McGuire, commanding general of Fort Polk and the JRTC, is expected to make a decision around the first of the year.

    Like

  2. A bit of history from 2004

    Thu May 13, 2004
    http://lists.envirolink.org/pipermail/ar-news/Week-of-Mon-20040510/024898.html
    S A V E T H E L O U I S I A N A W I L D H O R S E S

    For all concerned people (see “What You Need To Do” below)

    PLEASE at least e-mail the Army before May 15th (deadline for the
    Environmental Assessment 1st phase public comments) at
    . They will probably accept comments past the
    deadline at least until May 20th.
    Tell them you want the forest wild horses protected, not removed.

    (Formerly, the commanding general at Ft. Polk (Kisatchie National Forest)
    expressed a strong desire to keep allowing the wild horses to roam freely
    on their training areas in the forest, but the Louisiana Commissioner of
    Agriculture (the ogre in this) continues to pester the Army to remove
    them. The Army feels they should comply. Please read-on, but at least
    make contact with the Army so they can count how many people are
    concerned about the wild horses.)

    THE REASON ACTION ON YOUR PART IS NEEDED

    Hundreds of wild, free-roaming horses roam the piney woodlands of the
    Kisatchie National Forest in wild-horse bands. 129 horses have been
    counted in one large grouping (made up of several bands together). The
    Ft. Polk Military Reservation is located within the Kisatchie N.F. area,
    and the U.S. Army uses other parts (two predominantly) of the National
    Forest for training exercises and weapons firing. An environmental
    specialist at Ft. Polk has estimated that within these three areas there
    are approximately 350 horses. During exercises, the horses make
    themselves scarce. There are other segments of the Kisatchie N.F. in the
    region. No one really
    knows how many wild horses there are all together. Certainly there must
    be several hundreds of them.

    The Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry
    (LDAF), Bob Odom, has asked the Army to get rid of the horses, and the
    Army feels it should comply with his request, believing it is coming from
    the State of Louisiana. Odom is a powerful Louisiana politician having
    held his elected office for a very long time. He has proliferated “canned
    hunts” (commercial operations where animals are shot within enclosures),
    and he has supported cockfighting. He is currently being prosecuted in
    federal court for impropriety in contracting the storage of federally
    contributed commodities for school children.

    Odom’s Livestock Sanitary Board established rules with regard to equine
    infectious anemia (EIA), a disease of horses and related equine animals,
    that are seriously extreme. The rules require that horses that test
    positive for exposure to the disease (i.e., having antibodies against the
    disease in their blood) must be killed. This has caused great economic
    loss for some, and great heartache for others who’s much loved pets they
    were forced to destroy, including childrens’ ponies. Attempts by horse
    owners to stand up to the LSB in valiant efforts to save horses have
    ended in rude abuse, dishonesty, and humiliation. Most states, not even
    Kentucky has such a policy. Kentucky: home of many preciously valuable
    race horses.

    The chief scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture –
    Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Veterinary Services
    (USDA-APHIS-VS), Dr. Tim Cordes (DVM) said that EIA is currently regarded
    by him to be a disease of low transmissibility which requires a lot of
    exposure between animals to be transmitted. Dr. Cordes produced, along
    with Dr. Charles Issel (DVM,PhD) of the University of Kentucky, USDA
    documents (including uniform method rules which are recommendations for
    states to follow). Professor Issel is a researcher and world-
    renowned authority on EIA. He began his research on EIA while at
    Louisiana State University. Dr. Issel estimates (and the USDA reports)
    that, regardless of any other factors, when horses are separated by a
    distance of 200 yards, “the transmission of EIA is broken.”

    In a seminal paper on EIA, Tim Crawford, DVM and S. Lynn Kittleson, DVM
    state: “This irrational fear is a result of many distorted accounts of
    the severity and contagiousness of the disease …”. Here’s an indication
    of the rarety of natural transmission, even in conducive circumstances:
    EIA-negative horses that were kept for long periods of time (9 years for
    8 of the horses, and 15 years in one case), on a quarantine farm located
    next to the Florida Everglades among EIA-positive horses, continued to
    test EIA-negative.

    Yet Odom, reacting to the hysteria motivated “witch hunt” mentality
    within the LSB, has claimed that the Kisatchie wild horses are a
    reservoir of EIA infection, and he continues to pester the Army to get
    rid of them. Obviously, it is impossible, in any practical sense, for the
    wild horses to transmit EIA to owned horses even if it is assumed that
    they carry the EIA virus, which may or may not be so. A test conducted a
    few years ago of six captured Kisatchie wild horses showed that none of
    the six tested positive for EIA exposure. While the scientific inquiry
    regarding EIA has necessarily been based upon captive animals, and Dr.
    Cordes admits little is known about wild horses with regard to EIA, Dr.
    Issel believes that there would be some percentage of EIA-exposed horses
    in any population of wild horses. Accordingly, if Odom would have his
    way, all wild horses everywhere would have to be gotten rid of. Such a
    scenario would be abhorrent to most Americans.

    The Fund for Animal has successfully sued the Bureau of Land Management
    (BLM) over their “carelessness” in the adoption of wild horses (mustangs
    from ranges in the West). It appears that the majority of wild horses
    that are captured and “adopted” end up at the slaughterhouse in less than
    one year. Wild horses are not gentle animals. They may disappoint people
    who adopt them with unrealistic expectations. Also, some with criminal
    motives “adopt” wild horses to turn a profit at the slaughterhouse. The
    Army will make an effort to see that the horses are humanely treated and
    adopted. But saying that is one thing and doing it is another. The
    capture and handling of wild horses is extremely traumatic for the horses
    and results in casualties. The Army did not track the adoptions of the
    six horses (and one foal born after capture) that were taken in the test.
    They turned them over to a volunteer from a humane organization near Ft.
    Polk.

    If the Army actually pursues getting rid of the horses as they seem
    intent on doing, it will be costly to the government, and distract the
    Army from its primary mission in this time of world crisis. The horses
    are actually playing a role currently in some training exercises because
    they add an “element of realism” to the areas that are supposed to
    simulate a “3rd World” setting. If the Army troubles to remove the horses
    from their training areas, horses from other areas in the Kisatchie N.F.
    will surely be a source of re-population. The Army will have the same
    situation to again contend with year after year into the future.

    As a result of a settlement in a lawsuit in the U.S. Circuit Court (of
    Appeal) the Army is
    conducting an Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding the horses. The
    first public comment phase ends May 15th. While they say they are
    approaching the issue without pre-determining the outcome, they have
    already hired a contractor to consider removal of the horses, and the two
    public meetings they held were one-way affairs which did not permit
    public discussion on the issue. Comment forms to be completed in writing
    were handed out. The Army seems to be moving to comply with Odom’s
    request. Odom has no legitimate authority over the wild horses; no more
    than any other citizen of this nation.

    The wild horses were labeled “trespass horses” by an attorney at the USDA
    who was less than conversant with the issue. While this was contradictory
    to the opinion of an Army attorney, the court made it stick. This is an
    absurdity. The law in the U.S. Code that protects wild horses defines a
    wild horse as any unclaimed and unbranded horse on public lands of the
    United States. And, case law has recognized unclaimed and unbranded
    horses that join wild horse bands as being wild horses themselves. The
    Kisatchie wild horses have been there for generations, and are just as
    much wild horses as any in the United States. “Trespass” means they came
    onto the land unlawfully. These horses were born on that land (except for
    the few that may have joined them in more recent years). They are native
    to it.

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  3. A bit of history from 2004 (continued)

    Thu May 13, 2004
    http://lists.envirolink.org/pipermail/ar-news/Week-of-Mon-20040510/024898.html
    S A V E T H E L O U I S I A N A W I L D H O R S E S
    WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

    1. Write an appeal to save the horses, and send it to the Army at Ft.
    Polk at: or Public Affairs Office; Attn: Dan
    Nance; 7073 Radio Road; Ft. Polk, LA 7459-5342. If possible, please
    include any substantive information that supports the statements or
    arguments in your appeal.

    [The Army may respond with non-Odom/EIA related arguments about why the
    horses may need to be removed: the horses are in danger (they go away and
    hide in times of danger), and the horses get in the way on airfields and
    in drop zones, but these were never a serious concern of the Army, except
    there has been a bit of concern expressed about horses coming in to eat
    grass from re-seeded exercise plots denuded by Army operations with light
    cavalry vehicles. Surely there is a way to address this without removing
    the horses.]

    2. If possible, copy your appeal to the governor of Louisiana: Governor
    Kathleen Babineaux Blanco; State Capitol; P.O. Box 94004; Baton Rouge, LA
    70804.

    3. If applicable, contact your U.S. senator and your congressman. Tell
    them you want the Kisatchie wild horses to remain on the lands of the
    Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana; you don’t want the Army to remove
    them at the whim of a mis-guided Louisiana politician; and you want them
    afforded the same protection the government grants to any other wild
    horses under the Wild, Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

    Thank you. The horses need your help.


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  4. I say every thing deserves a second chance peole need to back down and let some be adopted you don’t know they cant be trained or not it just taes time and pasiont to do so so back off and let careing people take these beautiful animals into there homes

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  5. They don’t seem to be safe anywhere….the war on our wild horses continue. In spite of the history and magnificence of these exceptional animals, fairness and concern for their future and well-being seem to be of little importance. They need our protection and our voice, if we are to secure their future!

    Like

  6. Col.Sullivan needs a reality check and the chip off his shoulder removed! Such beautiful creature,give them a place to roam secured off from soldiers training and leave them be THEY WERE THERE FIRST YOU ARE THE TRESPASSERS!!!!

    Like

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