Monday, November 28, 2011
On a thin scrap of wild desert bounded on three sides by roads and one side by a 80-foot wide canal, this herd of about a dozen burros make a living eating the meager foliage that sprouts up among the saguaros and palo verde. I go out and visit this herd every few months, finding them by following fresh tracks and muffins they've left behind. They are curious, but cautious, always stopping to watch me, ears perked up, intent. But as soon as I move toward them, they trot away and then stop at a prescribed safe distance of about 500 feet to watch me again.
Since 1971, with the passage of the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act, burros have been managed according to AML's or "appropriate management levels" determined by wildlife biologists and resource management specialists. Whereas this used to mean rounding up animals and shooting them, today they are auctioned off as pets.
This small herd is part of the Lake Pleasant management unit, where a population of around 350-400 burros roam freely. Without management, burro populations grow rapidly, and burro crimes ensue. Impacts to springs and riparian areas, competition with native wildlife, altering archaeological and cultural resources, damage to vegetation and soil erosion from trampling are the most frequent citations given to wild burros.
As I gaze across the desert at the power lines spidering out from one of the regions largest electric plants just north of this burro refuge, and watch dust spiraling up from the dirt bike park on the other side of the canal, I often wonder: What would the AML of modern humans be, if our populations were assessed for our damages as burros' are? And who would adopt us?