Here’s Why 1,000 Wild Horses Are Being Rounded Up in California’s Modoc National Forest

wild mustangs in a remote area of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California
 Mimi Ditchie / Getty

Looking for a new horse? Now’s your chance to tame a wild mustang: Beginning on October 10, 1,000 of the estimated 3,900 wild horses in Modoc National Forest will be rounded up and put up for adoption or sold, according to a US Forest Service press release. The overpopulation of wild horses in and around the forest is putting their entire habitat in danger due to overgrazing and overtaxing the area’s limited water supply.

According to the Forest Service, only around 200-400 wild horses can be appropriately managed in the area, which puts the current population far above a sustainable level. The horse roundup, which will take place throughout the month of October, will help address the overpopulation issue and improve the overall health of the ecosystem the horses rely on. The press release provides more detail on the reasoning behind the roundup:

“Reducing the population will allow range and riparian ecological conditions to recover, while also supporting herd health by reducing competition for limited food, water and habitat.”

The Forest Service expects that most of the removed horses will be under the age of 10, and those animals will be held for adoption at the BLM Litchfield corrals. Horses above 10 years old will be held at the Double Devil Wild Horse Corral.

Not everyone agrees with the way the Forest Service plans to handle the captured horses. Animal rights group The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) argued in a press release that the Forest Service is exploiting a legal loophole that will allow the agency to sell the wild horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico. The older horses at the Double Devil Wild Horse Corral will be held for up to 30 days, after which they can be sold to buyers who could take them to slaughterhouses. Although the AWHC states that they understand the reason for the removal, Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign urged the Forest Service to treat the horses “in a humane and socially acceptable manner”

“The current plan will set a horrific precedent that violates the intent of Congress, the spirit of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the overwhelming will of Californians and other Americans,” she said in a statement.

Currently, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits the sale of American horses to slaughterhouses, but the Forest Service does not follow the same protocol. Even so, the fate of the horses isn’t sealed: All the captured animals will be available for adoption, and the Forest Service has more info on how to adopt them here.