While burros have endeared themselves to Oatman and its visitors, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has voiced concerns in recent years about rising burro populations throughout the Southwest.
According to BLM spokeswoman Dolores Garcia, burro populations need to be contained in order to ensure not only the health of such populations, but also the health of grazing lands throughout the Southwest. Bureau statistics indicate that burro populations have bloomed well beyond the BLM’s recommended numbers, which could ultimately harm both wild burros and grazing lands throughout the region.
Ideally, there should be a maximum of 1,676 wild burros throughout Arizona, according to BLM estimates. As of 2017, there were an estimated 6,241 burros roaming throughout the Grand Canyon State — one burro for every 32 Mohave County Residents.
“It is a critical issue,” Garcia said. “We’ve had issues with herd-management, but the law protects burros from harassment. We work with Arizona Game and Fish and the Arizona Department of Agriculture to monitor and control burro populations.”
According to Garcia, culling wild burros is out of the question. Instead, the BLM works with state agencies to organize gatherings and adoptions of wild burros, in which the burros are captured, gentled and adopted to Arizona ranchers. The Arizona Department of Corrections maintains a program at the department’s facility in Florence, Garcia said, in which Arizona inmates participate in gentling and training wild horses and burros as part of their potential rehabilitation.
The process of gentling and adopting wild burros, however, is an expensive proposition. According to 2015 BLM records, the practice costs about $50,000 per burro, consuming 65 percent of the agency’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget.
In Mohave County a different suggestion was discussed in 2015, when former County Supervisor Steve Moss met with U.S. Sen. John McCain to discuss a possible congressional review of the 1971 law protecting Arizona’s burros. In 2015, Moss proposed enlisting hunters to reduce burro numbers. According to statements made by Moss, he did not expect the Bureau of Land Management to approve such an exception, but hoped the “shock value” of such an agenda item would galvanize the BLM into pursuing a better solution for controlling burro populations.
“What we want is the BLM to come up with a solution, regardless of what it might be,” Moss said in 2015. “The federal government tied our hands as far as what we could do to control the burro population and gave authority over to the BLM. The legislation says it’s the BLM’s responsibility to control the burro herds, but they’ve broken that promise, and they’re not taking care of it.”
The BLM commenced research into a new potential solution near Phoenix, within the Black Mountain Herd Management Area. The 2017 Zonastat-H PZP Fertility Management Project, conducted In partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, is designed to test the effectiveness of applying porcine zona pellucida (PZP) contraceptive vaccine to female wild burros within the Black Mountain area.
The results of the five-year sterilization study will conclude in 2022.