On Tuesday a small group of wild burros ventured into the Lake Havasu City limits, coming in along North Palo Verde Boulevard seeking food and water.
This was not the first time the animals have been seen in the area. According to Havasu residents living in that part of town, a group of more than 20 burros has previously been spotted eating hay bales from neighborhood homes and trampling everything under foot.
With a population of more than 5,000 wild burros living in western Arizona, including 1,800 in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area north of Lake Havasu City, encroachment is expected to get worse in the coming years if an effective method of herd management isn’t found, said Mohave County Supervisor Gary Watson.
“Because the burro population doubles just about every four years,” Watson said, “if this continues unabated we’re going to soon see 10,000 burros throughout our region with the population moving to the east.”
The immediate and long-term concern for county officials is burros moving into ecologically sensitive habitat.
“There are places that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and others are doing their best to make sure endangered species are well protected,” Watson said. “The problem with burros, and wild horses, once they get to the point of overpopulation they essentially can destroy an entire ecosystem.”
Last year, the Bureau of Land Management allocated $11 million on research projects aimed at curbing wild horse and burro population growth.
The money funds 21 projects aimed at developing new tools for managing healthy horses and burros on healthy rangelands, including effective ways to slow the population growth rate of the animals and reduce the need to remove animals from the public lands.
Tapping into the funding stream locally is a Humane Society of America proposal – in conjunction with the BLM – to treat female burros (jennies) with the fertility control drug PZP (porcine zona pellucida) in the Black Mountain Herd.
“I think research like this is certainty warranted,” Watson said. “I’m hoping birth control practices they adopt will be effective, but the problem is you don’t see all of the burros all of the time. Inevitably they are going to miss (some) and that’s my biggest concern.”
BLM estimated there are 67,000 wild horses and burros on federal land in 10 states, 2.5 times more than the range can support.
However, government corrals and leased pastures are maxed out, where 47,000 horses nationwide cost taxpayers about $50,000 per head over the course of the animal’s life.
In October, Arizona’s only holding facility in Florence had 137 burros and 448 wild horses.
In Mohave County, the burro population has grown to such a degree that earlier this year Supervisor Steve Moss warned if BLM did not take long-term action to control the burro population, the county would pursue legal action against the Bureau for not carrying out its statutory duties outlined in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
Moss also introduced an agenda item to allow burros to be hunted.
To meet the growing need, for fiscal year 2015, Congress appropriated more than $77.2 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Of the total $75.1 million spent, holding costs accounted for $49 million, or 65.7 percent. Roundups and removals cost $1.8 million, or 2.4 percent, and adoption events cost $6.3 million, or 8.4 percent.
At more than $2.3 billion to house and care for the current level of wild horses and burros corralled in government pens for the remainder of their lifetimes, many ask if continuing the status quo is fiscally responsible.