There are hundreds of wild horses roaming on or around the U.S. Army's Fort Polk in Louisiana. But not for long.
The horses have stirred up controversy ever since the Army proposed removing them in 2015, saying they were a safety hazard to military personnel training nearby. Opponents of the move say the historic herd should stay put. The horses reportedly can trace their heritage back to Camp Polk cavalry horses from the 1940s and to early settlers' farm horses. Even further back, they can be traced to the mounts of Native Americans who lived in the area.
But the Army has decided to round up the horses that live in Kisatchie National Forest, which is used for training, reports KATC in Louisiana. The horses will be captured in groups of 10 to 30 at a time and offered first to animal rescue groups and then to citizens who will take them. After that, if any horses remain, they will be sold at livestock auctions.
In a statement, the Army said it's also looking for any landowner who might be able to take the entire group of horses. The Army will also try to find another government agency to remove and accept responsibility for the herd.
The Army is developing a list of animal rescue groups and individuals interested in adopting horses.
"The alternative that was selected offers the best opportunity to find a new home for every horse and protects American soldiers from a catastrophic incident while training at Fort Polk," said Brig. Gen. Gary Brito, commanding general of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center. "This plan gives all interested parties the opportunity to be involved in helping the Army solve the problems it faces."
But local opponents aren't taking such an optimistic tone.
Amy Hanchey is president of Pegasus Equine Guardian Association, a group that was formed to make sure these wild horses are treated humanely.
Hanchey and other activists would like to see the horses sent to rescue groups, but that will be difficult.
"It would be wonderful, but we're talking about generationally wild horses that have never been handled and have never had a halter on. We want good people to get these horses, but it's not going to be the same handling scenario as your average horse," Hanchey told MNN.
In addition, Louisiana animal shelters and rescue groups are over capacity right now because of recent flooding that left so many animals homeless.
Activists fear these wild horses will end up in sale barns where they can be sold to slaughterhouses, Hanchey says.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, some people might look for riding horses or ponies at an auction, however, "the majority of horses sold at auctions attended by HSUS staff were purchased by 'killer buyers' who represent or sell to horse slaughterhouses."
The ideal situation, Hanchey says, would have been to find another spot for the horses in the 604,000 acres of Kisatchie National Forest, away from Army training.
"Obviously, we love and support our military," she says. "We just really would've loved to have an area somewhere in there for the horses to go."