Up to 200 wild burros to be removed

Wild horses dominate the endless debate between ranchers, wildlife biologists, public land managers and wild horse advocates. Meanwhile, burros get little or no attention as they are trapped, removed and warehoused at taxpayer expense and then maybe adopted or sold.

Bait trapping to catch and remove about 200 burros started this week in the Seven Troughs Herd Management Area near Porter Springs and in the Selenite Range Herd Area near Empire. 

After they are “prepped” by the BLM, the animals will be available for adoption or sale for an unknown time frame at the Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Facility north of Sparks. Beyond that, animals not sold or adopted end up in long term holding facilities.

The Appropriate Management Level (AML) for burros in the Seven Troughs HMA is 28 to 46 burros while the population is estimated at 240 animals. The AML for wild horses in the 148,885 acre HMA is 94 to 156 animals. The HMA is surrounded by the 1,376,287-acre Blue Wing-Seven Troughs grazing allotment with total permitted AUMs (Animal Unit Months) for livestock of 32,228. An AUM represents a cow/calf, 

The BLM says there should be no burros or wild horses in herd areas including the Selenite Range HA. A fall, 2017 aerial survey indicated about 20 burros and 51 wild horses in that HA.

Burro trapping is permitted under the Blue Wing Complex Gather Plan Decision signed on October 23, 2017, according to the BLM. The plan also calls for the removal of excess wild horses in the complex, an operation Pershing County ranchers and officials are still awaiting.

The Decision calls for the use of fertility control vaccines and spay/neuter to maintain low AML for wild horses and burros but these tools are not mentioned in the burro trap announcement.

“In the past several years, BLM has documented severe utilization of riparian vegetation and extreme degradation of many springs located in the upper and lower elevations of the Complex,” states the BLM’s Environmental Assessment. “There is not adequate water on the public lands within the Complex to continue supporting the increasing number of WH&Bs.”

Seven Troughs HMA and Selenite HA burros are a public safety hazard and are damaging riparian areas at the Porter Springs Recreation Management Area according to the BLM.

“Due to limited forage and water within the Seven Troughs herd management area, excess wild burros are now leaving public rangelands and crossing roadways in search of resources,” states the BLM. “Vehicle collisions with wild burros have occurred on Highway 399 and burros have been spotted on Highway 447 south of Empire as well as within the town of Empire.”

According to the BLM, damage to water resources and vegetation around the Porter Springs Recreation Management Area “has also been attributed to the overpopulation of wild burros.”

Trapping the burros could take up to 45 days but the public will not be allowed to observe the operation or the handling and welfare of the burros. Animal deaths and euthanizations routinely occur during wild horse roundups and may or may not occur at the wild burro trap sites.

“The BLM will use the best available science and handling practices for wild burros while meeting the overall gather goals and objectives in accordance with its Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy,” says the BLM. “Because animals are reluctant to approach the trap site when there is too much activity, only essential gather personnel will be allowed at the trap site during gather operations.”

BLM Wild Horse & Burro Specialist Samantha Gooch said there will be no effort to determine which burros should be removed or returned based on animal age, health, sex or coat color.

“Winnemucca BLM will not be selecting out wild burros during this gather. As stated in the news release, this will be a water and/or bait trap gather,” Gooch said in an email last week. “The recent aerial census showed approximately 240 wild burros in the Seven Troughs HMA. The census also showed there are approximately 900 burros in the Blue Wing Complex.”

According to the BLM, Seven Troughs HMA burros are descendants of pack animals used by miners and sheep ranchers. 

Some Lovelock residents say they enjoy seeing the “pinto” burros in the Porter Springs area.

“Yes, paint or pinto burro colors are unique which enhances the Porter Springs experience,” Gooch agreed. “I hope you get out to the Porter Springs Recreation Area one of these days to see the wild burros, other wildlife and visitor improvements Winnemucca BLM has made.”

After burros are trapped and transported to Palomino Valley, then checked by a veterinarian, they will be prepared for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Adoption and Sale Program. PVC officials should then know when the animals will be available for adoption or sale, Gooch said.

Last month, the BLM initiated an adoption incentive program that pays wild horse and burro adopters $500 within 60 days of each adoption and another $500 within 60 days of the title transfer about one year after the adoption. Adopters pay the BLM an adoption fee of $25.

Wild horses and burros that are older than ten years old, and younger animals that have been offered but not adopted at least three times, can be auctioned off instead of adopted and title to each animal is immediately transferred from the government to the owner. There appears to be no limit on the number of wild horses or burros the highest bidders can purchase from the BLM.

According to the American Wild Horse Campaign, wild burros, unlike horses, will try to stand their ground when threatened so bait trapping could be more humane than helicopter roundups.

“Ever vigilant and not easily spooked, burros react differently to government helicopter roundups than wild horses. Unlike wild horses, who generally panic and blindly follow other horses into a trap site, wild burros often scatter in an attempt to avoid capture. As a result, roundups can be even more brutal for burros as they are chased relentlessly by helicopters.”