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Burro/vehicle collision in New River raises questions, concerns

1/27/2016

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NEW RIVER – A burro-involved collision on the I-17 caused a chain reaction with six total crashes that resulted in a three-hour freeway closure on Friday night. Two burros attempting to cross the southbound I-17 near milepost 231 in New River were hit by a tractor-trailer.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bart Graves noted that one person involved in the accident suffered minor injuries; no other injuries were reported. The tanker truck that struck one of the burros was badly damaged and required a heavy-duty tow to be removed from the freeway.

“We ended up closing down all southbound lanes for about three hours,” Graves said.

One of the burros involved died in the collision. DPS reported that the other burro was still alive when they arrived on-scene, but no further information was available on its condition. 

Graves called the burro-involved collision unusual for this area.

“We’ve had reports of that happening up in the north,” he said.

While burro-vehicle collisions aren’t common in the north valley, reports of burros venturing on to roadways are not unusual in other parts of the state. Multiple car-burro collisions have occurred in the Mohave County area. Mohave County Supervisors have passed a resolution asking the government to “control the excessive population of feral burros and to formulate and implement a management plan that will address the dangers they pose to travelers on Mohave County roadways.”

On Jan. 15, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission adopted a resolution backing that Mohave County resolution. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has repeatedly said that wild burros are destroying other animals’ habitats and that the population cannot continue to grow unchecked.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department made statements on their Facebook page regarding the Jan. 22 collision in New River.

“This would be less of a danger for motorists if burro populations were properly managed as required by federal law,” AZGFD wrote in a comment. “Unfortunately, left unchecked, collisions such as these will become commonplace – as they have in the Kingman, Bullhead City and Yuma areas. Driver attention is always needed as well, but when these non-native, feral animals cross major roadways – especially at night – even the most attentive driver is at risk.”

Nathan Gonzalez, Arizona Game & Fish Department Public Information Officer, noted that burro management falls under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, adding that the Arizona Game and Fish Department currently has minimal recourse in handling the issue.

“The department is working with other partner agencies and counties to come up with solutions for the BLM and to fight for the resources it needs to properly manage the state’s burro populations,” Gonzalez said.

Bureau of Land Management Phoenix District Public Information Specialist Adam Eggers noted that the BLM had operatives at the scene of the New River accident and that the BLM is and has been looking for solutions to the problem of burros on or near roadways.

“We want to do whatever we can to make sure the public and the burros are safe,” Eggers said. Eggers noted that in several areas where the burros’ wandering was causing a threat to their safety and to public safety, the BLM gathered them up and relocated them or adopted them out. Eggers referenced burro gathers at Ben Avery Shooting Range; burros were making their way on to the shooting range, which was extremely dangerous for them. The BLM gathered burros in the area, adopting some out and relocating others to safer areas.

One of the Mohave County supervisors has brought forth the idea that hunting permits could be issued for burros. Burros are a protected species; purposefully killing them is a violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has called on the Bureau of Land Management to take measures to bring down population numbers but has not endorsed burro hunting for population control.

Eggers emphasized that hunting “wouldn’t solve the problem.” Hunting might bring down population numbers temporarily but would not address the overbreeding issue and would be “senseless killing,” Eggers said.

“That (hunting) is not something that’s being looked at,” Eggers stated.

AZGFD representative Gonzalez noted that, in addition to collision issues, burros are causing habitat damage and displacing native wildlife, which has been a recurring objection to the burros’ continued high population numbers.

“The BLM has conducted roundups in the past and has placed burros up for adoption, but they haven’t been fruitful enough to have a significant enough impact on the overall burro population,” Gonzalez stated.

Eggers noted that the BLM is constantly looking for ways to solve the problem of burro overpopulation. In addition to burro adoptions, the BLM is researching fertility control for the burros, using a contraceptive currently used for horses.

“The only field trials of that have occurred with wild horses,” Eggers explained. “We’re going through the science and partnering with the Humane Society to get to the point that we can do a field test on that.”

Eggers noted that the BLM has budget limitations; given more funds, they could build a larger holding facility and vet, train, and adopt out more burros. The budget isn’t expected to change, however.

“We’re having to think of innovative ways to manage the issue,” Eggers said.

If the BLM does not implement any new burro population control measures, litigation may be on the table.

“Should the federal government fail to act, one option proposed by the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, is to sue the federal government to force the BLM to manage populations back to appropriate management levels (AML), as required under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act,” Gonzalez said. “The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department hopes whatever solutions are presented are enough to avoid any kind of litigation.”

So far, no litigation has been brought forth. Meetings and further discussion among the agencies will continue as they search for an answer that will work for everyone involved. AZGFD is not currently advocating for a particular measure of population control but is strongly asserting that some additional measure must be taken.

Gonzalez called it clear that “something must be done to protect native wildlife, the habitat they depend on and now public safety.”

“As of right now the State of Arizona and AZGFD currently have little say in the management of burros. The department is interested in meeting with our partner agencies and counties before presenting any one particular solution to the BLM,” Gonzalez said.

Eggers reiterated that the BLM is “constantly aware” of the burro issue and that the objective is to work with the agencies involved to find a solution that is good for everyone involved, including the burros.

“We all have to work together in order to come up with a solution,” Eggers emphasized.