Maybe it should be 'Burro of Land Management'

Recently I attended a public meeting at the BLM office in Kingman where the BLM's wild horse and burro specialist, Chad Benson, gave a short presentation to those 20 or so persons in attendance, seeking input to assist the agency in developing a plan to deal with the burro situation in the Black Mountains.

I was there with Gary Watson, of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, and who is always attending meetings like these in order to keep abreast of what is going on in the county.

Also in attendance were members of the Arizona Game & Fish Department (Region 3) and the National Park Service (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)

For me, it seemed strange to hear Benson give this presentation. The burro overpopulation issue is nothing new in the Black Mountains.

It has been a problem for many, many years in the fragile Black Mountains in western Mohave County. It started when the miners and military brought burros here to use as beasts of burden in the 1860s. The miners died or moved on, and the same with the military. Burros were turned loose or escaped and had to fend for themselves.

But considering from where these critters had come from (North Africa), the Black Mountains seemed like the Garden of Eden, and they have and will continue to thrive there.

Out of hand

Burros are feral exotics, no question about that, but when a misguided lady known as Wild Horse Annie got the U.S. Congress to give federal protection to these critters in 1971, that's when things started getting out of hand.

Several attempts were made to manage the number of these animals, which are destructive to the fragile ecosystem in the Black Mountains. None worked. Local citizens were outraged at the government's failed attempt to keep the burro population in the Black Mountains at a manageable level. Those who were in the Blacks on a regular basis could see the damage that was being done. The high burro numbers were adversely affecting the native desert bighorn sheep and deer that inhabit this same mountain range.

In the early '70s, several persons decided to take the population issue matters in their own hands. About 52 burros were shot and killed in the area of Cool Springs, which is located south of old Highway 66 near Ed's camp.

When these animals were found, there was a huge uproar, not only in Arizona, but nationwide.

Karen Sussman, who was the then-president of the International Society for the protections of Mustangs and Burros, was seen on national television riding a horse and telling the American public about the "crime" that been committed in the Black Mountains. She demanded that the federal government find out who had shot these burros and prosecute them to the fullest extent that the law would allow.Despite the government's best efforts, including offering rewards that started out as a couple of thousand dollars and finally ended at $25,000, no suspects were identified.

Many, many local citizens, including myself, were interviewed at length in regards to the shooting.

I told the federal investigators then that, in my opinion, what had happened was that people were disgusted in the way that BLM was handling the burro population issue in the Black Mountains. Like a kettle that has a hot fire under it, things just boiled over.

In the end, an investigation that supposedly cost the BLM over $250,000, resulted in no suspect being identified and no one was ever prosecuted.

Shooting those burros was wrong. In this case, these vigilante shooters thought they were doing the right thing, but they were not. Besides risking years in prison, and huge fines, their misguided attempt only produced one positive thing: They brought to light a situation where the agency that was supposed to be in charge of managing burros was obviously not doing the job.

In the uproar that followed the situation, those in government not only at the state level, but at the national level, too, decided that something had to be done to prevent further shooting incidents.

That led to the creation of a number of groups that were going to be charged with putting together a plan, one that could be signed off by all to solve the many issues associated with burros in the Black Mountains.

In 1993, a group of interested parties from conservation groups, wild horse and burro advocates, and federal and state agencies was formed that would work for three long years to produce a plan that was adopted that was called the Black Mountain Ecosystem Management Plan.

I was one of those who was contacted by BLM and asked if I would be willing to represent local sportsmen and the Mohave Sportsman Club on that committee. I agreed.

Next week, I'll give you the details of the massive 150-page plan that was produced as a result of the collaborative effort and was touted as being the model for burro management throughout the West.