After causing an outcry among animal lovers with a plan to hunt hundreds of wild burros in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to table the proposal temporarily.
The vote came at the end of a long and passion-filled public meeting during which local residents and board members debated Supervisor Steve Moss’ recent two-pronged — and arguably illegal — proposal: Agenda Item 31.
Moss proposed that if the Bureau of Land Management fails to reduce the size of the burro population in the management area to 817 animals by the end of the fiscal year, the county would either “Seek legislation authorizing state agencies to issue hunting permits . . . or pursue litigation to compel the BLM to comply with the management plan.”
“The BLM is not adequately maintaining the herd size, and it’s causing some adverse affects,” Moss said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Mohave County, under Arizona law, has absolutely no ability to do anything with the burros. We can’t even touch them if they’re killed on the roadway.”
There are 1,400 to 1,800 burros in the 1.1-million-acre area, about 1,000 more animals than the federal management plan calls for, and Moss said he was concerned about roadway safety, environmental damage, and other economic problems caused by the exploding burro population — the BLM estimates that the burro population can double every four years if left unchecked.
Despite raising alarms about shooting hundred of animals with his proposal, Moss was clear that at least as of now, “no one is [actually] advocating going out there and shooting burros.” As many speakers pointed out, including Moss himself, the county has no authority to institute a hunt. It’s a directive that would require federal laws be amended.
But that being said, he added, if the status quo is allowed to continue, something catastrophic is going to happen and the local or federal government could be forced “to do something inhumane.”
Moss and many others said they were frustrated that even though the burros are not native to the area and therefore have no significant natural predators, the county can do little more than sit back and watch the population explode.
Prior to 1971, the state-managed wild horse and burros — most of the animals were abandoned or set loose by miners or other early European settlers — but following the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 they became the BLM’s responsibility.
For years the BLM has attempted to curb population growth by rounding up wild burrows and holding them in pens until they can be adopted, but supply has always exceeded demand – millions of taxpayer dollars are spent caring for the thousands of burros waiting to be adopted, one speaker at Tuesday’s meeting pointed out.
Amber Cargile with the Arizona BLM says that while the agency is actively looking into using fertility drugs or other creative solution to curb burro population growth, it’s important to remember that the agency only has “two tools in [its] toolbox” under federal law: fertility drugs and adoption.
“Any time you have a parcel of land, the challenge is finding the balance between having protected population, protecting native wildlife, and to support the economic needs of the local community,” she says. “We’re concerned and we care and [the burro issue] has had our attention for a long time.”
That the BLM cares and is trying was apparently not enough reassurance for most at the meeting, and many advocated greater action be taken.
Some suggested fixing broking fences by roadways, while other called for all males to be castrated or for wolves and big cats to be introduced as predators. Most were okay with some private-public partnership being part of the solution, but some invoked the spirit of the Sagebrush rebellion and said the only way progress will be made is if the federal government turns over all land to the state.
“I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg to a much larger issue: an overreaching, abusive, and mismanaging branch of the federal government,” one man said. “Trying to get BLM to do their job is a waste of paper, they’re going to claim they don’t have the funding, and it’s very likely they don’t – the federal government has been very active in taking peoples’ money. I know something has to be done, and I don’t like the thought of the burro being killed, but what are we going to do?” said one woman.
Another woman noted that none of the solutions up until now have worked, leaving only one option left: “going out there and shooting them.” Problem is, she continued, “That’s also a solution that the public is going to be highly, highly against.”
“Instead of making inflammatory statements about hunting and killing our beloved burros, I would urge our board and county to instead work cooperatively with the BLM,” another speaker said.
Horse advocates across the country can breathe a sigh of relief because at the end of the meeting, the board voted to do just that. Moss motioned to table his own proposal, admitting the he only proposed a hunt to get attention for the issue.
He suggested instead that the county organize a meeting with representatives from the BLM, Fish and Game, and the two other counties struggling with exploding burro populations: La Paz and Yuma.
“We’ve had two resolutions about this in the last few years and no one has paid attention, which just goes to prove that if you want peoples’ attention, you have to shock them, scare them because asking ‘pretty please’ and sending them a nice note doesn’t do the trick.”
In the future, he told his fellow board members: “we have to be hard, we have to say extreme things to get things done.”
It’s not clear that advocates for the burros feel the same way about his tactic.