December 18, 1971 was a dark day for Arizona wildlife, and it is only getting darker.

“We are now in a position where an overabundance of a single, non-native, feral species now outnumbers our native iconic bighorn sheep in the Black Mountains,” said Commission Chairman Robert Mansell. “Burros are having a negative impact on our fragile desert ecosystems, competing with sensitive wildlife species for forage and water, and are destroying desert vegetation. As the agency responsible for conserving Arizona’s wildlife, that’s very concerning and indicative of a larger problem that must be addressed.”

Here is Sierra Club policy on the issue:

“Feral horses and burros should be eliminated from key wildlife habitat, including the desert bighorn habitat of the American Southwest, and from designated natural areas. In other situations, their numbers should be carefully regulated to minimize conflict with wildlife, livestock and other range values.”

The reality is there are 1,800 burros in the Black Mountains near Kingman on habitat that can support 475 burros. There are other areas where burro numbers are nine times beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. The BLM spends as much on feral animal management each year as it does on support for native wildlife.

This situation is a perfect example of the “tyranny of the majority.” People who have a romantic and naive view of the west passed federal legislation protecting burros but depriving us of management options.

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The adopt-a-burro program is an absolute failure in terms of managing burro numbers. Congress has failed us and has turned a blind eye to the science that has identified the problem and possible solutions.

As a result, the fragile ecosystems of our southwest deserts are being destroyed. This is having a negative impact on our desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, Gamble’s quail, migratory songbirds, desert plants and water sources.

The problem is the way burros eat plants and trees, which kills them. Our native wildlife, instead of eating the entire plant, browse on the plant. Our deer and sheep take little bites off the ends of their chosen food source, leaving the plant to continue providing nutrition in the future. After the burros are done, the plant is either dead or dying.

What can be done? The only thing I can think of is you need to contact your representatives and demand that they recognize the science and let wildlife managers manage wildlife – all wildlife.

If you fail to act, fail to harass Congress into doing the right thing – and it will take multiple efforts are your part – you can kiss this ecosystem and all the native wildlife it supports goodbye. All the native wildlife will not disappear tomorrow, but once the habitat is gone -- and it is disappearing with every bite a burro takes -- all the species that depend on that habitat will be gone.

It will take all the people of Arizona to fight the majority of Americans who have some romantic notion of the feral, invasive, non-native burros and no clue to how their ignorance is killing our native wildlife.

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