The National Park Service's program to remove alive "every last wild burro" from 2-million-acre Death Valley National Monument has been essentially completed with the capture of more than 6,000 burros.
Today is the deadline set four years ago for capturing the animals and putting them up for adoption. To make sure wild burros do not return to Death Valley, Park Service rangers beginning Wednesday are authorized to kill any stragglers they encounter while on patrol.
"If we find a group of burros roaming wild anywhere in the park we have assured animal protection organizations we will contact them and ask them to remove them," said Edwin Rothfuss, Death Valley National Monument superintendent.
"It has been an expensive program to evict the animals alive from Death Valley, but we did it," Rothfuss said.
It cost the National Park Service $1.4 million to capture, feed, hold and transport the burros to adoption centers set up by the federal government and animal protection groups.
Another $300,000 was spent building a 37-mile fence on the eastern border of Death Valley to prevent wild burros from drifting over from Nevada.
Burros are not indigenous to Death Valley. They were taken there beginning in the 1860s by prospectors looking for rich ore veins in the hot, dry valley.
The beasts of burden were often turned loose or wandered off; over a 125-year period, the population of wild burros exploded. As the number of burros increased, other wildlife declined and disappeared. Vegetation and water used by insects, rodents, birds, coyotes, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and other native wildlife were gobbled up by the burros.
"Toward the end of the roundup it was costing as much as $1,200 to round up a single burro," Rothfuss said. "We knew there were a few stragglers out there and invited animal protection groups to round up the final numbers."
Cleveland Amory's Fund for Animals became involved in getting the last of the burros from remote outreaches of Death Valley. The animal group removed 230 of the animals in operations last October and in April.
Cowboys hired by the Park Service rounded up 87 wild horses and five mules in addition to the burros, officials said.