Moss: 'Hunting burros' idea only meant to get attention

Some burros are well-fed by tourists in Oatman, but ones in the wild compete with other animals for resources. (ALAN CHOATE/Miner)

Some burros are well-fed by tourists in Oatman, but ones in the wild compete with other animals for resources. (ALAN CHOATE/Miner)

KINGMAN - When it comes to getting his point across, Supervisor Steve Moss goes for the jugular.

His proposal to reduce Mohave County's burro population by seeking legislation to issue hunting permits popped some eyes and drew animal activists from Phoenix and Tempe to speak their three minutes before the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to table the item at Tuesday's regular meeting.

The board approved a motion to schedule a workshop with the BLM, Arizona Game and Fish and officials from Mohave, La Paz and Yuma counties to get an opinion on what can be done about the exploding burro population.

Supervisor Buster Johnson was the lone dissenter, saying nothing ever gets done in workshops.

Killing the lovable creatures that are an attraction for tourists in Oatman and along Route 66 was never Moss's intention. What he really wants is to make the Bureau of Land Management comply with its burro population management plan.

Blame the BLM

It's the BLM that took much of the heat from supervisors and the public for allowing burros to populate beyond manageable numbers.

Moss proposed a resolution calling upon the BLM to reduce the burro population to less than 817 in the next year, then corrected the number Tuesday to less than 478.

According to the BLM, there are an estimated 1,400 to 1,800 burros in the Black Mountain management area.

"It's become a problem in that the BLM has not adequately maintained the herd and it's causing problems with the ecosystem," Moss said.

The burro population has increased over time and pushed out habitat indigenous to the desert, such as quail and bighorn sheep, he added.

"They're all competing for the same resources. They all need water and they [burros] foul the pool," he said.

The supervisor offered a couple of solutions. One is sterilization and contraception, and the other is capture and adoption.

"The BLM is in a bit of a jam because they can't adopt out all the burros they capture. There are literally thousands of burros waiting for adoption at the expense of taxpayers," Moss said.

Johnson said burros are protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, but the BLM doesn't have the money to carry out the law and meet its requirements.

"It's a money pit for them," he said.

County Attorney Bill Eckstrom said any state legislation to manage the burro population would be pre-empted by the federal government, but Moss said the county would seek federal legislation to allow the state to take action.

"No one is advocating that we go out and shoot the burros, but that is a potential solution," Moss said. "We need legislation for the BLM to work with local governments. We are not partners in this. We are being dictated, or more importantly, we are being ignored."

Supervisor Gary Watson said the burro population will double to 3,600 in the next four to five years.

"You'll see wild horses and many other animals dying from starvation and dehydration," Watson said. "It is a crisis."

Watson said he hopes people understand that nobody wants to slaughter the burros. The county wants to see the situation handled humanely.

Don Martin, outdoorsman and member of the Mohave County Sportsman Club, said it was "warm and fuzzies from back East" who got the 1971 act passed. His group been working on the population management plan since 1993.

"It's not anti-burros," he said during extensive public comment. "It was set at 478. The Black Mountain ecosystem cannot sustain this (current) population."

The BLM has 30,000 burros in adoption pens, and it's costing millions of dollars to feed and house them, Martin stated.

"You have to lean on these jokers and make them come to the table," he said. "What are you going to do with them?"

Burro defenders

Lisa Brothers, a volunteer for the Salt River Wild Horse Group, came up from New River to tell supervisors that taxpayers don't like the idea of slaughtering the burros, as they may have noticed from the hundreds of emails they received regarding the issue.

"They have value," Brothers said. "They have tourism value, they have aesthetic value. Many people like to look into the desert and see these creatures living wild and free. Burros are the least of our problems. What about all the trash and ATVs tearing up the desert?"

Patricia Campbell of Lake Havasu City said she's been living in the desert for more than 40 years, and "it's wonderful" to see the wild burros, especially for tourists.

"It may be the first time some of these people ever saw a burro, and they have pictures and a story to tell friends when they get home," she said.

Mohave County has adopted two resolutions in the last two years to reduce the burro population, and the got "absolutely no attention," Moss said.

"Which proves if you want attention and eyes on the situation, you have to scare them," he said.

In other action Tuesday:

• The board voted 3-2 (Moss, Johnson opposed) to establish a 2.4-mile section of Calle Lucero from Stockton Hill Road to Avenida Obregon for tertiary maintenance in the county road system, only to the degree of a gravel road in the North Kingman area. Public Works Director Steve Latoski said 277 vehicles travel the road each day, and it does satisfy county standards for tertiary maintenance. The road remains unsurfaced, or gravel, and would not cause an "undue burden" on the county for grading, Latoski said.

• The board voted unanimously to authorize the Economic Development Department to actively market vacant properties owned by the county, and bring prospective offers back to the board for consideration. County Administrator Mike Hendrix said the county has received requests for potential purchases of property, and he believes the market is on the rise. He wants Economic Development to do simple things like placing a "For Sale" sign on the properties and possibly generate interest.

• The board voted 4-1 (Johnson opposed) to ratify Oatman Fire District board members James Tobin and John Schnetter, and accept the resignation of Bonnie Nowak as temporary administrator of the board.

• The board took no action on a status report on the written opinion of Jeffrey Bernick from Jackson Lewis law firm to review the board's legal authority to make changes in employees' paid leave policies. Hendrix informed the board that the county has paid more than $4,800 to the firm. Supervisor Hildy Angius said she would contact Bernick about the written opinion.