Of all the animals that roam our country, few are as impressive as wild horses.
But the number of places where these animals can still be found are shrinking every day, and one herd is being targeted in a large-scale roundup this month.
The plan to corral and ship out 1,000 wild horses in California is drawing backlash nationwide.
Horses Adopted, Sold, Or Slaughtered
A herd of almost 4,000 horses run free on the Devil's Garden Plateau, in California's Modoc National Forest.
But a management plan from 2013 says the 250,000-acre territory can support just 400 adult horses.
This week, they began a planned roundup of 1,000 horses, who will be moved out of the territory and put up for adoption.
The Forest Service says the large horse population are overeating the forest's native plants, and competition among the herd is starting to harm the animals.
But the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) says the horses aren't the only animals grazing in the forest.
"When [the Forest Service] talks about environmental damage, they don’t mention one word about cattle," the groups executive director Suzanne Roy told ABC News.
"The reality is they’re removing 1,000 horses from two grazing allotments, where ranchers hold permits to graze their private livestock on public lands."
Animal lovers are also concerned that many of the horses who are not adopted will be put up for sale - and could end up in a slaughterhouse.
"There's plenty of evidence of horses being severely injured to the point of having to be euthanized as a result of these roundups."
While most government bureaus are not allowed to sell wild horses, the Forest Service is.
But there's also no requirement for them to put the captured animals on sale in the first place.
They plan to put the animals up for adoption at a $125 fee, but any older horses who are not sold will be put up for sale at just $1 in November.
While the service says they can block buyers who plan to use the horses for human consumption, animal rights groups warn that "kill buyers" will just ship the horses to markets like Canada, Mexico, and Japan where there are no restrictions.
In a statement, the AWHC accused the bureau of "exploiting a legal loophole to sell an estimated 300 wild horses ‘without restriction,’ allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone."
Biologist D.J. Schubert told NBC News that the roundup itself can be “quite brutal” for the horses.
"There's plenty of evidence of horses being severely injured to the point of having to be euthanized as a result of these roundups," he said.
The AWHC has suggested a number of changes that could limit the roundup's impact on the forest's horses.
They say capturing the animals in smaller numbers over an extended period would avoid flooding the market, guaranteeing more animals are adopted.
They even offered to fund a fertility control program, which they claim would help shrink the horse population without harming animals.
Despite the backlash, Modoc forest supervisor Laurence Crabtree says there are already more roundups planned.
"We still have too many horses… so the plan is once a year," he said. "We will stick with this plan until we can get these horses down to the level the land can sustain."