KINGMAN - A compassionate approach to culling the burro population in Arizona could be on the horizon after local, state and federal officials met with Sen. John McCain in Washington, D.C., last week.
Mohave County supervisors Steve Moss and Hildy Angius were there to discuss the overpopulated nonindigenous burro problem in the county's Black Mountain Herd Management Area, which has led to traffic accidents on state and county highways, as well as taken a toll on the feed and water resources mule deer, bighorn sheep and other native animals and birds rely on for survival.
Rather than euthanize a percentage of the herd, which was seen as a tough final solution, the Arizona Game and Fish Department suggested an adoption program similar to that for wild horses in the West. The federal Bureau of Land Management must sign off on the proposal and agreed to take it into consideration given the parameters of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which calls for no more than 1,316 burros within the state. That threshold was passed a long time ago, with the number of burros in Arizona estimated at nearly 4,200. Of those, roughly 1,700 are in Mohave County, mostly along the Colorado River, more than three times the 478 burros the law recommends for the Black Mountain Herd Management Area.
"Everybody in the room agreed there is a burro population problem," Moss said on Friday. "The solution proffered by Game and Fish is a good proposal and very compassionate."
The adoption program, which the BLM would run if it ultimately accepts the plan, would call for the rounding up of 250 burros a year, a number Moss said would not remedy the problem, but only slow it down. "We would still have a problem," he said. "The BLM must accept the proposal to see how effective it can be." If it turns out there's a public demand for burros, the program could be expanded. If not, "we'll have to try something else," said Moss.
If nothing else, Moss sees progress. "I'm very pleased with the fact everybody agrees there is a problem. That's a good first step."
Moss said he applauded Game and Fish and the BLM, but he said most of the credit goes to McCain.
"I don't think this would have happened if McCain didn't get everybody in the room."
McCain also is pleased, saying in a statement from Game and Fish that the burros "are threatening public safety and damaging property in our communities across the state."
The proposal also calls for collaboration. The Game and Fish proposal suggests it and the BLM join with the state departments of agriculture, corrections, land, transportation and the counties of Mohave, La Paz and Yuma. It would expand the BLM's Wild Horse Inmate program so Burros could be included in the Arizona State Prison-Florence adoption program.
"It's clear to all parties that the current incarnation of the federal government's Wild Horse and Burro program is no longer effective and must be re-evaluated," said Fish and Game Chairman Kurt Davis. "The impact this non-native, feral animal is having on our native wildlife, our communities and taxpayers is only escalating and no longer can be shoved aside by the BLM. We look forward to the BLM embracing the Game and Fish proposal and working with our fellow state agencies, impacted counties, and Sen. John McCain in pursuing a long-term plan to further limit the ecological and economic damage by feral burros."
In addition to the threat the burro population poses to native wildlife, taxpayers paid more than $75 million on the Wild Horse and Burro Program in 2015, according to Game and Fish. Those costs will increase if burros are not as adoptable as proponents hope. It cost $50,000 to house and feed a captured burro over the animal's lifetime and there are already more than 1,200 awaiting adoption in the West.
Motorists have also been affected. Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady earlier this month told supervisors there have been 36 accidents involving burros within the city limits in the past three years.
The burro population grew by 20 percent last year, according to Game and Fish. McCain said he would seek a congressional hearing to address the issue.
"It's time that Congress held a hearing to examine the rapid growth of burro populations in Arizona," said McCain. "I look forward to continuing this conversation until a sustainable, long-term solution is agreed upon."