|Today, Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, represented by Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, filed a lawsuit in the Louisiana District Court against the US Army at Fort Polk Louisiana, charging that the Army’s plan to eliminate herds of horses violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
The suit is about the historic and cultural significance the free roaming Heritage Horses have on the landscapes of Western Louisiana and the Army’s intention and actions to “eliminate” them. Wild horse herds across the United States are remnants of our country’s earliest history and they exist in the Kisatchie National Forest region of Louisiana, where they roamed on vast grazing areas near abundant water sources and dense stands of trees that sheltered them from harm and the elements for generations. They were in the area long before Louisiana became a state in 1812. Horses referred to today as Spanish Colonial Horses, were obtained from the Spanish and brought from Texas by Native Americans to the Kisatchie region. The Caddoan, Comanche and Avoyel horse cultures traded them with the French and others to the north and east, past the Mississippi as early as 1682 (r1). This is also the Louisiana Purchase and Neutral Zone region where thousands of wild cattle and horses were driven from the Piney woods of East Texas near the Sabine Parish area to the Natchitoches livestock markets on a trail known as Old Beef Trail or Burrs Ferry Road. This small, compact horse is found in the wild herds of Peason Ridge, LA and in the remote areas down toward Fort Polk, LA. As settlers moved to the region and made farming their livelihood, they documented the numbers of livestock produced (r2). In the mid 1800’s, thousands of horses were free ranged with no fencing on vast grazing areas in today’s Sabine, Vernon, Beauregard, Rapides, Grant, Natchitoches, Webster, Claiborne and Winn Parishes, Leesville and Fort Polk. Furthermore, auction and estate sale records show hundreds of saddle horses and wild horses were sold in these areas. Horses and mules also came by railroad and were transportation for the area’s sawmill towns and massive logging industry. When commercial logging subsided, some horses were reported loosed with existing wild horses, others were left behind when the army took over Heritage Families’ land by eminent domain (r3).
Horses of every size and age were also utilized by the military from locals and used as “remounts” and service animals because of the shortage of regulation cavalry horses. Hundreds served alongside the cavalry horses during the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 involving over 400,000 men (17,000 mounted Cavalry Troops) in preparation for WWII.
“Those horses are part of our ecosystem. They were here before we got here and we just have to figure out how we’re going to deal with that,”
– Retired Army General Russel Honore’
“In light of the thousands of wild horses and burros that the federal government wants to remove from the range in Nevada and elsewhere, it would be irresponsible for the Department of Defense to move forward without a long-term, humane management plan for the Fort Polk horses. We respectfully urge the army to partner with local organizations to create and implement a humane management plan, using safe, proven fertility control, to reduce the number of horses over time..”
-Neda DeMayo, wild horse expert, President and founder of Return to Freedom.
“The Army’s plan sets a dangerous precedent for future viability of these unique horses. The unique herds of truly wild horses are of value both environmentally and culturally, especially to the inhabitants of the area, but also to all Americans. They should be preserved and protected. Wild horses are wild by their nature, regardless of what label some want to put on them. The wild horses that survive today may be regarded as “feral” by some, however, the fact that horses were domesticated before they were reintroduced back to the North American continent matters little from a biological nor a welfare standpoint. Regardless if the horses are abandoned, generationally wild or otherwise wild, their welfare and long term viability is at stake.”
– Amy Hanchey, President, Pegasus Equine Guardian Association
Citizens and animal welfare organizations have expressed concerns for the welfare of these innocent creatures. Locals have reported seeing them in the area as long as they can remember. Several attempts have been made to collect information pertaining to the horses on behalf of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, however the Army has been unable to provide basic information regarding Louisiana’s Piney Horses.
Reference 1 USDA USFS Kisatchie Heritage Program
Reference 2: A Good Home for a Poor Man: Fort Polk and Vernon Parish, 1800-1940 by Steven D. Smith
Reference 3: www.PolkHistory.org