It's not often the federal government gets caught in the middle of a dispute between two groups on opposite sides of a highly charged emotional issue. But that's exactly what is happening across the country over the question of what to do with infirmed, abandoned, overpopulated or unwanted wild or domestic horses.

New and rapidly evolving incidents related to the issue are creating a soap opera atmosphere as corporate attorneys, the Nevada Association of Counties, animal protection groups, sympathetic celebrities, a State Attorney General, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, Native American tribes, and multiple federal agencies play roles in an escalating drama that is sparking emotions in the controversial issue of what to do with a growing animal problem. 

In New Mexico, a state judge in Santa Fe heard arguments again Monday in a lawsuit filed by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King against Valley Meat Company of Roswell, a company that was issued a federal permit last summer to open a horse slaughterhouse but has been blocked by a series of lawsuits designed to keep the processing plant shuttered.

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The lawsuit charges the slaughterhouse operation would violate New Mexico's food safety laws, would further result in water quality issues and would also violate the state's unfair practices law.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the sensitive question of what to do with an overpopulation of wild horses is at the center of a new federal lawsuit filed by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation two weeks ago (Dec. 30) charging the federal government is mismanaging large wild horse and burro herds and is creating a dire situation where equine are in poor health and dying. Parties also claim the animals are causing serious damage to public and private land that can not support equine herds in such large numbers.

Named in that lawsuit are the United States Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, BLM Director Neil Kornze, BLM Assistant Director of Renewable Resources and Planning and BLM State Director Amy Leuders.