Go Ahead, Fence Me In: Wild Burros Counted & Protected

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Burros are Jacks (males) and Jennies (females). Photo by Linda and Dr. Dick Buscher

Perhaps you noticed that shiny new fence along the west side of I-17, north of Anthem down to the Carefree Highway. It was installed to keep wild burros off the highway. And it seems to be working.

From the beginning of 2013 through June 2017, there were 32 known collisions between vehicles and burros in the Lake Pleasant Area herd, said Leon Thomas, Phoenix district manager for the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for managing wild burros and horses in the United States.

The burro deaths in this area have been mostly on the Carefree Highway, I-17, and the Loop 303.

But since the fencing went up late last year, there have been no burro collisions on I-17, Thomas told In&Out. Five burros were killed on Loop 303 earlier this year, but ADOT found where they were crossing and fenced the spot off, and there have been none since.

No humans have died upon hitting burros in the area.

Wait… Burros?

There are more than 1,600 burros in Arizona. Descended from pack burros used for mining in the late 1800s, and originally introduced to the Southwest by Spaniards in the 1500s, the now-wild burros are about 4-feet tall and weigh 350 pounds on average. Originally from the deserts of North Africa, they’re well suited to survive here.  

The Wild Free-roaming Horse and Burro Act 1971 requires a level of protection for the burros.

Most Arizona burros range on or near the state’s western border. The Lake Pleasant herd—thought to number about 633 and growing roughly 15 percent per year, Thomas said—is the state’s easternmost. About 50 to 100 of those animals roam near and around I-17. They’ve been spotted around Anthem and Tramonto.

But the herd’s size “is just a guess,” Thomas said. And not much is known about their habits, including what compels them to cross the highway.

Adopt a Burro?

In late June, the BLM conducted an aerial survey to get a better handle on the burro population and the amount of vegetation available to them. In partnership with the Arizona Game & Fish Department, they’re collaring some burros, too, “to better understand migratory patterns, Thomas said, and “what makes them try to cross highways. It is to forage, for water, or something else?”

The goal: Determine the right size for the herd.

And if it’s too big?

There are two options that would be considered, Thomas said: Fertility control and an adoption program. “We could gather a few of the burros and see if people are willing to adopt them,” he said. The agency did a “gather” in 2014 in the Loop-303 area south of SR-74.

And yes, those are the only two options, Thomas stressed. “The BLM does not ever round up horses and burros and put them down.”

A section of fence between Pioneer Road ad Carefree Highway keeps burros off I-17, lowering the number of crashes. In&Out Staff Photo

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Robert Roy Britt
NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites Space.com and Live Science. He has written four novels. Email the author.
Robert Roy Britt on Email

Robert Roy Britt

NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites Space.com and Live Science. He has written four novels. Email the author.

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