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Nevada Farm Bureau, counties allege feds mismanage wild horses

Two Nevada organizations have filed a lawsuit alleging that federal government has mismanaged wild horses, causing damage to rangelands — and the animals themselves.

The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and the Nevada Association of Counties named three defendants in their lawsuit filed Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Controversy over the Bureau of Land Management's roundups of wild horses and burros ranging over 10 Western states is coming to a head, with ranchers, horse advocates and even the government acknowledging that the program is heading toward crisis. NBC News' Lisa Myers has the story.

The groups say the BLM should "destroy" horses that are judged unadoptable rather than keeping them in crowded ranches, the Elko Daily Free Press newspaper reported. The BLM, for its part, has opposed the sale of horses for slaughter.

Related: Cruel or necessary? The true cost of wild horse roundups

The agency has removed close to 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past 10 years, citing a federal law that mandates the protection of "the natural ecological balance" on public lands and the removal of "excess" horses.

A record number of wild horses – almost 50,000 – are now living in captivity, far more than the 32,000 left on the range, according to the BLM.

When contacted by the Associated Press on Sunday, BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.