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Feral equine management at the Naval Weapons Center


Feral equines present a unique management problem for federal land managers. Although feral burros are an invader species introduced onto the North American Continent by 16th Century Spanish explorers, they have both State and Federal protection. Under the umbrella of this protection, feral burro populations exploded in the 1970s. By 1979 the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, California, was being overrun by burros. Burros were destroying the desert environment and creating very real hazards to aircraft, vehicles and personnel. The Naval Weapons Center in an unprecedented move implemented an interim emergency removal program. A total of 1,513 burros was removed under this program: 864 by live removal and 649 by direct reduction (shooting). Adverse national publicity followed the shooting phase of the emergency removal. Congress had determined in 1971 that wild burros were to be considered an integral part of the natural system of public lands. Had the Navy directly violated this statute? The Navy, beginning with this apparently no-win situation, was able to structure a joint long-term removal program involving the federal government and animal protection groups. Events had been turned around and the earlier no-win situation was now a win-win situation. It has been two years since the long-term removal program was negotiated. An additional 4,387 burros have been removed alive. Burros left on base now number less than 200. The removal of 5,900 burros has allowed the Naval Weapons Center to reintroduce the native ungulate, the Desert Bighorn Sheep. This culminated a four-year effort at the Naval Weapons Center to restore Center ranges to their natural condition.

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