(Reuters) - One thousand wild horses are to be rounded up in California by the U.S. Forest Service and animal rights activists fear hundreds of them could be sold for slaughter.
The Modoc National Forest in northeast California plans to start the round up and removal of the horses on Tuesday from the Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, according to a statement on its website.
The more than 250,000 acre (101,171 hectare) territory was designated for up to 402 adult horses, but their population has grown to almost 4,000. That has impacted the health of horses as they compete for limited food. It has also harmed scarce water sources, native grasses and other wildlife, the agency said.
"It's time we took a more active approach taking care of the horses, taking care of the landscape," Amanda McAdams, Modoc National Forest supervisor, said in a video on the round up.
Under the plan, horses aged 10 and older will be available for adoption or sale, with limitations, in November. Younger animals are also up for adoption, according to the national forest's website.
A purchase agreement on the website states buyers must agree not to resell horses for slaughter, which is illegal under California law.
According to The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the Forest Service plans to exploit a legal loophole to eventually sell the older horses, numbering around 300, "without restriction," thus allowing buyers to ship them to Canada for slaughter.
A ban on horse slaughter in the United States was renewed earlier this year. The practise is legal in Mexico and Canada, leading U.S. horse buyers to ship animals to those countries for slaughter and sale as horse meat to Europe and Asia.
In a statement, the AWHC urged the Forest Service to reduce the wild horse population humanely over time by making removals incremental so homes can be found for all horses.
Officials for the Modoc National Forest and AWHC were not available for further comment.