NEW ORLEANS – Animal rights advocates want a federal court to make an Army base in western Louisiana stop rounding up hundreds of feral horses on land it owns or uses.
Fort Polk began escalating efforts in November, and some captured horses are treated poorly and many may be slaughtered, the Pegasus Equine Guardian Association said in court papers backing up its request for a preliminary injunction.
People and groups that might adopt the horses, "are being arbitrarily rejected and removed from the potential adopter list, increasing the likelihood that 'kill buyers' will be able to acquire the horses," the association wrote.
Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in an email that the department cannot comment on pending litigation.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen Kay scheduled a hearing Jan. 30 in Lake Charles.
The association sued the Army and Fort Polk's commanding officer in December 2016 over plans to get rid of about 700 "trespass horses" the Army considers a safety risk in training areas.
Most of the horses are on about 48,000 acres (19,400 hectares) in the Kisatchie National Forest — part of 90,000 acres (36,400 hectares) of forest land that the base uses for training, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jim Caldwell has said.
The Army has lists of tax-exempt rescue groups and people interested in taking the horses. Its plan calls for notifying them after roundups of up to 30 horses. Any rescue group unable to take every horse from one roundup is struck from the list. Individuals who can't pick up the number of horses they commit to within five days also are removed.
The horses have been there for decades, possibly more than a century. Some people speculate that the herds are descended from Army cavalry horses. Monday's court filing, however, asserts the horses have roamed the area at least since the early 1800s. Fort Polk was founded in 1941.
Some look like descendants of horses acquired by Choctaw Indians from Spanish colonists, according to a letter from Jeannette Beranger, senior programs manager of The Livestock Conservancy, filed in the court record.
Some horses from isolated areas should get a closer look, which might prompt DNA tests to see if they are "Choctaw horses" or similar strains, wrote Phillip Sponenberg, a professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, in another document filed Monday. He said such horses would be valuable for conservation.
In a another court document, Jeff Dorson, head of the Humane Society of Louisiana, said he received complaints this month from tipsters who aren't Pegasus officers about inhumane treatment of the horses.
Pegasus has received other allegations that "current contractors or subcontractors are not treating the horses humanely, failing to provide adequate and non-moldy hay and sufficient clean food and water, using inhumane round-up techniques, or engaging in practices that will favor moving the horses to kill buyers over animal welfare organizations or humane adopters," the organization said.
One contractor or subcontractor, Jacob Thompson, "has been in legal trouble with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, State of Texas, and State of Oklahoma for abuse, theft or other violations involving livestock," according to Pegasus' filing.
Thompson was fined $3,150 on Friday for violating five Louisiana regulations including selling livestock without a permit, Veronica Mosgrove, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said in an email. She said his only state-licensed business is Thompson Horse Lot. The lot's Facebook page states that it's in Pitkin, which is near Fort Polk.
A call to the number on Thompson Horse Lot's Facebook page was answered by a man who said, "We're not interested in no press." The man said he was not Jacob Thompson and hung up when asked his name.