The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

UPDATED: BLM Conducts Rescue Mission for Stranded Burros; 56 Burros Dead

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on August 26, 2010

UPDATE, August 26, 2010: Today I spoke with Mr. David Briery of the Needles Field Office to attempt to get more details on this story. The following is a brief summary of our conversation, which was brief in itself.

The dispatch call was made at approximately 1 p.m. PST on Thursday, August 19, 2010. BLM Fire Fighters, the San Bernadino County Water Tender, and Ridgecrest WH&B Facility personnel were mobilized within 30 minutes of the call. Upon arrival, the personnel found approximately 12 deceased burros “piled one on top of the other in the entrance to Fenner Spring”. Another 44 deceased burros were found outside of the entrance in disarray. Another 13 burros were close by – albeit very dehydrated –  but still alive. Fire tankers had already begun to bring water to a staging location outside of the area to allow the Fire helicopter pilot to fill his bucket and delivery water to the surviving 13 burros. The pilot delivered 750 gallons of water then backed off about sunset. Another 4,000 gallons of water were brought in the following morning when the rescuers saw that the first 750 was gone and the 13 burros were not.I asked how the burros arrived at this location to begin with… He replied that they had likely come from the Mojave National Preserve.

I asked about the circumstances of their deaths, of how the burros could die of dehydration as was stated while they were in or on a spring… He replied that the spring was dried up. I inquired as to how a spring could be “clogged” if it were dried up. He stated that the spring itself was dried up and the opening to the spring was clogged. After rescue operations were initiated and the deceased burros were removed (un-clogging) the spring had to be dug down a bit to reopen the flow. Briery said the spring probably only flows during certain times of the day and either wasn’t flowing at the time or was insufficient to serve the desperate animals, who probably followed their leaders and crushed in atop each other until the entrance was plugged.

I brought up the possibility that the burros had been poisoned. He replied that the cause of death was still under investigation and that water from the spring had already been tested for Botulism with a negative result. However, Needles Field Office officials were not satisfied with only one test and have therefore submitted a second test to verify the first test’s negative result. Results are pending.

As for the fate of the remaining 13 burros who survived, I asked where they were now. He replied that after they were rehydrated the burros had left the area. According to Mr. Brier, there was no human contact with these 13 burros during the rescue operations as the rescuers were too concerned about their stress levels being aggravated given their current physical conditions. The water was even delivered with fire helicopters to reduce the human contact aspect. (Remember, these pilots can drop a load of water on a dime from a very high altitude as long as they have the coordinates.)

There was definitely no attempt made during the rescue operations to gather any of the burros, however I was dismayed to learn that there are plans to gather them sometime in the near future as the AML for the area is zero for burros, both on public lands and parks lands. They will be transported to the Ridgecrest WH&B Facility and prepared for adoption.

Some comments have been made as to why BLM did not mitigate earlier for water sparcity given the knowledge that water becomes very scarce during this time of year. On this particular issue, there was no way for BLM to know that the burros were in need of water as they were not even supposed to be in the area where they were found. This area is not an HMA. It is a cattle allotment inside the Piute Mountains Wilderness Area.

Given this information along with others reports that have since surfaced, I have to conclude that this is not a BLM mistake. What has happened here with this situation is extremely tragic, but was not a result of a direct lack of judgment or responsibility. In fact, were it not for the fast actions of the BLM and other personnel, there would like be no burros left at all.


I think I’m in a little bit of a state of shock on this one… I don’t have more details yet I’m sorry to say, but this news release says quite a bit in itself. I’m glad and thankful that BLM, Wildland Fire Fighters & Forest Service responded as quickly as they did (according to reports) and that the remaining burros were rescued. However, I am confused as to how the burros got to the area in the first place, but more so I am somewhat astonished that there were enough dead burros to clog up a stream and that the reported cause of death was “dehydration”…  on a spring… that obviously had water as it is reported in the news release as “clogged”. More details to come on this one for sure! T.

Release Date: 08/24/10
Contacts:  David Briery, (951)697-5220 Erin Curtis, (916) 978-4622
News Release No. CDD-10-97

BLM Conducts Rescue Mission for Stranded Burros

(Needles, Calif.) – Thirteen wild burros stranded in a remote area of San Bernardino county are the  focus of an unusual rescue mission coordinated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The burros are the last of a herd of 69 wild burros found stranded without water and outside their normal herd management area.

BLM Needles Field Office Manager Rusty Lee said BLM was notified Thursday afternoon by a local rancher that he had come across a number of burros that apparently had died of dehydration, but there were also others that were still alive at Fenner Spring, in the Piute Mountain Wilderness Area, about 35 miles west of Needles, Calif.  The herd was about 40 miles from the Chemehuevi Herd Management Area, the nearest BLM herd management area.

The rancher, who grazes livestock in an allotment covering the area, said the dead animals had clogged the spring in the pursuit of water in the 110-degree heat, preventing other burros from getting to the spring.  He attempted to pull out as many as he could with his horse, but wasn’t able to reopen access to the spring. The nearest alternative source of water is 12 miles away; Fenner Spring, an abandoned mine adit, is the only reliable source of water in the Piute Mountains. 

Lee said BLM immediately mobilized a helicopter, a county water tender, folding water tanks, and other equipment needed to rescue the remaining burros.  Although the site is in a federal wilderness area, BLM has authority to use “minimum tool” equipment in the case of emergencies, he said.  A BLM fire crew was dispatched to the area and deployed portable water troughs.  Corral staff from the BLM Ridgecrest Wild Horse and Burro Facility were also dispatched.

A contract fire helicopter reached the scene later that afternoon and began moving water from large portable troughs by the highway to a smaller water “pumpkin” near the spring.  Thirteen live burros watched a helicopter deliver 750 gallons of water.  BLM personnel then backed off at sunset to allow the burros to approach the water. 

Upon returning in the morning, 13 live burros were seen in the area and the water trough was empty.   Corral staff then ordered another 1,000 gallons delivery by helicopter and also set up secondary troughs for more water.  The county water tender delivered another 3,000 gallons to the helicopter drop point to be readily available as needed. Corral crews have been on-site to stabilize the surviving burros for further recovery and later transport to the Ridgecrest Corrals.

Lee said the rancher’s discovery and rapid reporting of the situation “saved the lives of the remaining burros.”  He said range specialists were unsure how the animals wandered into this area although burros are adept at finding water sources in the desert.  “BLM also took special precautions to minimize impacts to the wilderness and to rehabilitate the area, which was already disturbed due to the previous mining operation.”

BLM California Deputy Director Tom Pogacnik said BLM will conduct an inquiry into the incident and credits Lee and all others involved with “a fast response and plan that undoubtedly saved the lives of the remaining animals.”  The preliminary findings from the veterinarian brought to the site to check both living and dead burros were that the animals died from dehydration.   The remaining animals are in fair condition and with an adequate supply of water on hand are expected to survive.


13 Responses to “UPDATED: BLM Conducts Rescue Mission for Stranded Burros; 56 Burros Dead”

  1. Keep it coming Tracie… thanks, mar

  2. Morgan Griffith said

    Yes will be interested in hearing the whole story on this one. At least an initial thanks to the rancher, altho forgive me if I view anything involving equids, blm and water with a jaded eye.

  3. mary ellis said

    Uhhh, believing that the BLM does ANYTHING good is a stretch. Perhaps the burros were dehydrated because the water holes were fenced off like what’s been happening to the wild horses..

  4. Donna Buscemi said

    Here’s a different take on this
    MOJAVE DESERT: Wild burros die in mine
    By PE News on August 24, 2010 1:24 PM

    Nearly 60 burros were discovered dead in and near a horizontal mine shaft late last week in the Mojave Desert wilderness area, federal officials announced this morning. The site is roughly 35 miles west of Needles.

    Some of the animals had been dead for as long as two weeks and were decomposing. In all, 56 died.

    Officials with the federal Bureau of Land Management believe the animals most likely died of thirst but they were investigating the possibility that the animals may have consumed contaminated water inside the mine tunnel.

    A natural spring about 30 feet into the six-by-six foot tunnel made it a regular water source for wild burros, said BLM spokesman David Briery. The spring, however, appeared dry when the dead burros were discovered. The nearest other source of water is about 12 miles away.

    One burro died at the spring and others followed, apparently in search of water. “They just started piling in,” Briery said.

    The burros were discovered by a rancher on Thursday.

    A BLM helicopter delivered 750 gallons of water for 13 surviving burros.The next morning all the water had been consumed. Another 4,000 gallons were brought in by helicopter and a county water tender.

    BLM officials removed dead burros from the old mine tunnel as desert temperatures reached 110. Heavy excavation equipment was used to bury them. The mine shaft is in the Piute Mountains Wilderness Area.

    Wild burros have roamed the Mojave Desert since they were brought to the area by gold and silver prospectors.

    The BLM regularly rounds ups and captures burros and holds them in federal corrals in Ridgecrest. The animals are then made available for adoption.


  5. Linda Horn said

    Read an abbreviated version of this story in this morning’s paper. HORRIFYING!!! More evidence of the need for active, continual observation and management.

    The heat in those areas has set all-time records for most of the Summer. Why didn’t anyone at the BLM/FS snap to the need to do a flyover to check the water/range conditions for not only the burros, but also other wildlife? Any precious pronghorns in those areas?

    And I’d like to know more about the mines. I thought reclaimation and sealing shafts were written into company contracts. BLM asleep at the wheel again?

  6. I find it very interesting that this area is a cattle allotment. How on earth can you raise cows, a domestic animal under such adversity, if burros don’t have enough water? Guess it could be that the “good water” is fenced off? I am glad that BLM finally got water to them but somebody “isn’t minding the store” in the first place.

    • Because of the AUMs. More likely than not, they are set up to only run cattle during the months of the year that arenot adversarial, as are most AUMs. It wouldn’t make very much sense financially for a rancher to run his cattle on an allotment that threatened the lives of his cash crop.
      Again, the issue of “fencing off” and “minding the store” are not viable arguments here because of the facts that #1, this area is not an HMA and #2, there are not any natural sources of water for another 12 miles away from this spring. We know the spring itself was not fenced off because they were found deceased in the spring.

  7. reveil said

    Tragic. If the water is contaminated due to mining, the cows are able to stay away from it for some reason.

    • How is the water contaminated?

      • reveil said

        From one of the posts just above: ….”Officials(…)were investigating the possibility that the animals may have consumed contaminated water inside the mine tunnel.”

        • I brought up the possibility that the burros had been poisoned. He replied that the cause of death was still under investigation and that water from the spring had already been tested for Botulism with a negative result. However, Needles Field Office officials were not satisfied with only one test and have therefore submitted a second test to verify the first test’s negative result. Results are pending.
          The mine is no longer active.

  8. Donna Buscemi said

    Read #4 above with the other news write up I posted

    • LOL, yea, that was what I was saying with my response… I asked him about that and the test was negative. Granted, there’s a 2nd test to double check this, but until we have those test results, we cannot make conjectures or statements to the contrary.

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