BLM Utah Poised To Conduct Rigged “Research Study” of Wild Burros

BLM Utah Poised To Conduct Rigged “Research Study” of Wild Burros

Salt Lake City, UT (February 11, 2016) … The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is calling upon the Bureau of Land Management to halt plans, announced yesterday, round up and remove more than 60 percent of burros in the Sinbad Herd Management Area (HMA) in Utah. The roundup will precede a “research study” on natural wild burro behaviors and reproductive rates. AWHPC charges that the planned, large-scale removal will undeniably impact and alter the natural behaviors of the burros, and will artificially inflate reproductive rates of the wild burros remaining in the HMA. By reducing the population to 90, the roundup will also put the burros at risk of inbreeding and jeopardize the long-term genetic health of the Sinbad burro herd.

The BLM Price Field Office in Utah plans to round up and remove 130 of the 220 burros currently living in the Sinbad HMA in March and April 2016 – reducing the population to just 90 burros on more than 154 square miles of public lands in south central Utah. After decimating this population, the BLM is then proposing to conduct a "research" study, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to put radio collars on 30 of the burros left in the HMA to study their reproduction, movement and social behaviors.

“The BLM is manipulating the conditions for a so-called ‘research study,’ which will then deliver skewed results regarding wild burro reproductive rates and natural behaviors,” said Deniz Bolbol, programs director for AWHPC. “Both the USGS and BLM are completely ignoring the devastating impact that the removal of 60 percent of this burro population will have on the remaining burros – impacting their behaviors, reproduction, and long-term genetic health. This is nothing more than junk science and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

AWHPC is also concerned about the plans to radio collar the burros, recalling the deadly results of a BLM wild horse radio collar experiment in Nevada in the 1980’s. This is the first radio collar experiment on wild horses or burros in the wild since that time.

The Sinbad herd is one of the only BLM-managed burro herds that does not show signs of inbreeding. The planned massive removal will permanently damage this herd and the BLM knows it. The BLM noted in its Environmental Assessment that, “The issue of [genetic] viability within the HMA is of concern to the Price BLM, due to the relatively low AML, the number of animals available to maintain genetic variability, coupled with the relative isolation of this population from other populations of wild burros.”

“The fact the Sinbad burro herd has only been rounded up only three times in the last 22 years makes it a model herd, in its current numbers, to study natural wild burro behaviors,” continued Bolbol.  “In addition, the limited removal of burros over the past two decades is to be credited for the Sinbad herd to be one of the only BLM-managed burro herds tested showing no genetic signs of inbreeding. Yet sadly, the massive removal plan jeopardizes this and is likely to force burros to inbreed due to the significant reduction in population.”

The BLM noted in its EA “the population would grow at 8% per year based on past inventory and removal data.” The planned massive removal of burros will likely artificially increase the remaining burros’ reproductive rate as noted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) scientific review of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, “[BLM] Management practices are facilitating high rates of population growth.…Thus, population growth rate could be increased by removals through compensatory population growth from decreased competition for forage. (NAS Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, p. 5-6)

The BLM will then use that artificially inflated population growth rate as a standard which will be applied to burro herds across the West.

AWHPC is calling on the BLM to cancel plans for the removal and instead study this uniquely healthy wild burro population in its undisturbed state.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is a national organization dedicated to preserving America’s iconic wild horses and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. AWHPC’s mission and grassroots advocacy efforts are endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations.

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The BLM practice of managing burros at low numbers has created a crisis for wild burros. The BLM’s lead equine geneticist, Dr. Gus Cothran, Professor, Department of Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University, has stated that the U.S. burro population is at a genetic breaking point thanks to the many BLM roundups (euphemistically referred to as “population contractions”) that have reduced the population to tiny, fragmented herds, resulting in a situation that has caused a dangerous increase in inbreeding. In fact, many burro populations have only a 20 percent (20%) genetic variability factor compared to a healthy genetic variability of 70%.

The 2013 NAS scientific review specifically addressed the ominous situation facing burros under BLM management: 

  • Due to the low number of burros on the range "removing burros permanently from the range could jeopardize the genetic health of the total population" [NAS Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, page 304];
  • "BLM may also need to assess whether the AMLs [Allowable Management Levels] set for burros can sustain a genetically healthy total population" [NAS Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program, page 304].