LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A Humane Society chapter in southeastern Kentucky says it is locked in a dispute with a coal company that wants to shoo a pack of wild horses off a former surface mining site.
Harlan County Humane Society President Marcella Chadwick said Sequoia Energy wants the horses moved off the land, but Chadwick said her group and the landowners who leased the coal rights to the mining company want the animals to be left alone.
"Just leave the horses alone, that's all we want out of it," Chadwick said Tuesday. There are about 80 to 100 horses in the area, and the animals have been around there for decades, she said.
Chadwick said an official from Sequoia contacted the Humane Society about three weeks ago to seek help in moving the horses, which the company said are disturbing vegetation that has been planted as part of the company's federally-mandated reclamation of the surface mine site. Federal law requires coal operators to restore vegetation to previously mined land, along with other improvements.
Messages left with Sequoia's parent company, Southern Coal Corp. of Roanoke, Va., were not returned on Tuesday. Southern Coal is owned by West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice and his relatives.
Records with Kentucky's Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement show that Sequoia Energy is currently performing a 95-acre reclamation project in Harlan County and restoring a former surface mine to fish and wildlife habitat and forest land. The company has so far reclaimed 92 acres.
Grazing animals like horses and cows have caused problems on other mine reclamation sites in southeastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, said David Ledford, a biologist who has worked with coal companies in restoring land and wildlife to surface mining areas.
"It's rampant. It's very common in eastern Kentucky in the coalfields," said Ledford, president of the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation in Corbin. "There's probably several thousand horses out there that are walking around these reclaimed coal mines."
The horses can devastate a newly-planted site, and then the coal company is held accountable for the slow progress on the reclamation, Ledford said. He has seen similar problems in at least four other eastern Kentucky counties, but in most cases, the landowners support the removal of the horses so the reclamation can proceed.
He noted a project in Leslie County that a coal company has been reseeding annually for several years because horses continue grazing a five-acre area.
"It's a major problem," Ledford said.
Chadwick said people travel from other states to watch the horses at the Harlan County site. Some people have come forward to offer to take some of the horses away, but Chadwick doesn't want them moved.
"These horses, this is their home, this is where they're going to stay," she said.
Chadwick said the local Humane Society has hired an attorney for a possible legal battle.
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