While attending the meeting at the Bureau of Land Management office in Kingman, where KRA Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Chad Benson was giving a presentation and asking the folks in the room for input on what to do about the over-population of the burros in the Black Mountains, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with one of the members who was on the Black Mountain team with me.
I hadn't seen Ross Haley for many years and I was surprised he was at the meeting.
After the short presentation by Benson, who advised that he wasn't going to answer any questions from the audience until after his presentation, and that those with questions could move around the room and meet with the BLM staffers individually, I sat and talked with Haley.
I learned that Haley is still working for the National Park Service and is still at the Lake Mead National Recreational Area.
Haley is a very quiet and smart man, and when we were working on the plan, I always listened to what he had to say, as his remarks were seemingly always on point.
I told Haley that I was very disappointed at this meeting, that I couldn't believe that the BLM was asking for input for a problem that we had solved many years before.
I advised Haley that I had been told by a person close to this situation that the reason there hadn't been any gathers was there was no room for additional burros to be captured, and that a lot of the BLM's budget for wild horses and burros was being spent on maintenance of already captured animals who were in the system.
Haley smiled and said, "That's what I heard too."
I told Haley that all of the issues the public was being asked to weigh in on - including vegetation management, ecosystem health, wilderness preservation, recreation and even cultural issues - were addressed in the Black Mountain Ecosystem Management Plan that we had worked on over 20 years ago.
Even the most pressing issue, that of what to do with the over-population of burros in the Black Mountains, had been addressed in that plan.
The plan called for an authorized management level (AML) of 478 burros in the Black Mountains.
And the plan stated that it was to be reviewed and updated every three years, so it would be a living document that could address new or different issues as they came up.
But had that happened?
Had the staff at BLM in Kingman read the document since it had been adopted in 1996?
In a conversation with Rueben Sanchez, the KRA Manager, he assured me that his staff had read it.
Had it been reviewed and updated every three years as the plan called for? "I'm not sure," Sanchez answered. "Probably not."
I asked Benson why there hadn't been any burro captures in the Black Mountains since 2010. Benson said it was his opinion the captures had been stopped because there was no place to keep the burros.
Benson noted that the facilities near Kingman can hold 30-40 burros, and that there are vehicles ranging from pickups pulling trailers, to semi-trucks, available to transport any captured burros.
Benson said that burros could be sent to facilities in central Arizona, California, Nevada and even Utah.
Benson also suggested that I call another BLM staffer in Phoenix for more information on the operating budget of the wild horse and burro program.
I subsequently spoke to Dennis Godfrey, who is a public relations staffer out of the state office in Phoenix.
Godfrey advised that as of the end of March, the BLM had spent $35 million dollars of their wild horse and burro budget.
Godfrey also confirmed that the BLM is currently paying private landowners, mostly in the Midwest, from $1.50 to $2.50 per day to graze previously captured wild horses and burros. That is called Open Pasture and the BLM has 30,000 animals in that program. Godfrey noted that 90 percent of the animals in that program were horses, not burros.
"We don't have any problems adopting out burros," Godfrey said.
Godfrey also noted that there were over 11,000 animals in holding corrals in the West, and another 6,000 animals in inmate programs throughout the country.
While Godfrey claimed there is room for additional burros, he couldn't say why there hadn't been any burro removal for over four years.
Godfrey also said that he had not read the Black Mountain Ecosystem Management Plan, but he noted that the plan was over 20 years old, and that there had been a change in administrations, presidents, state directors, and even changes of personnel in the Kingman Resource Area field office.
Godfrey said that the BLM personnel who were involved with the Black Mountain plan were gone. I assured him that at least two BLM staffers who were on the planning team - Don McClure and Rebecca Peck - were still around. Peck is a wildlife biologist and both are still working out of the Kingman Field Office.
When I advised Sanchez that I heard that there was neither money available nor places for captured burros to be placed, he answered, "That is probably right." And Sanchez suggested I call another BLM staffer at the state office for more details.
I did attempt to contact that person several times for clarification and additional information on the money and space situation, but he has not returned my calls before I wrote this.
So the question still remains, who at the BLM has read this planning document, and have there been any updates to it since it was adopted?
Remember, this plan was touted as a blueprint for ecosystem management throughout the West by the BLM.
The plan clearly details even the methods to be used to catch and remove burros from the Black Mountains.
It's all there, if the agency wanted to use it.
Next week I'll tell you what I think needs to happen to solve this burro overpopulation problem in the Black Mountains.