'Save' the Grand Canyon -- catch a burro

Have you ever wrangled with a burro? Care to try? The final draft of the National Park Service's Federal Burro Management Plan, delivered Feb. 8 to the US Environmental Protection Agency, allows the public to attempt "live removal" of some 350 wild burros that roam the Grand Canyon.

Considering the rugged terrain, the Park Service is not recommending a burro roundup as leisurely weekend outing.

"It will be akin to roping mountain sheep," says Jim Walters, resource management specialist at the park. "It's hard enough to walk yourself around with a backpack, let alone chasing burros."

The plan includes a chance for the public to remove the burros because the emotion-charged alternative method of reduction, now the second phase of the management plan, is shooting. If the Park Service is unsatisfied with the progress of the roundup after 60 days, sharpshooters will be brought in.

And since the final draft incorporates the idea of "direct reduction," as it has been euphemistically called, the Park Service is likely to need a legal defense of the plan.

"We may have to meet them down in federal court," says Joan Blue, president of the American Horse Protection Association in Washington. "The plan is just as idiotic as can be. In a place two-and-one-half times the size of Rhode Island, how can 350 burros be doing that much damage?"

The Park Service report documents burro trails that scar the canyon, trampled and eaten vegetation, fouled water holes used by campers, damaged archaeological sites, and general interruption of the natural ecosystem.

"If you are concerned about the harmonious balance that has existed here for millions of years," says Mr. Walters, "then you will see the damage being done."

Those strictly concerned about humane treatment of burros "do not have an inkling of the ecological and biological impact on our park," he adds.

The burros -- not to be confused with the mules that tour guides use to shuttle visitors to the canyon floor -- were brought to the canyon in the late 1800s as pack animals for gold prospectors.

The Fund for Animals, the humane organization founded by Cleveland Amory, believes that the burros can be removed without being shot. The group is continuing to solicit money for the project, which it estimates will cost $120, 000. Mr. Walters, who has studied the burro problem for three years, believes the Fund for Animals is "sincere" in its intentions, but thinks that the group will comprehend the physical and financial enormity of the problem once live-removal efforts begin.

A Park Service demonstration of live-removal techniques showed that it cost $ 405 for each animal to be taken from relatively moderate terrain. Another estimate, which included air lifting, cost $1,200 per animal.

"Talk is cheap," says Mr. Walters. "I think the Fund for Animals is going to have a tough time."

It is not known what other groups or individuals will apply for permission to join the roundup, which will begin after the final plan is given a routine 30 -day period for the public to comment.

But the Humane society of the United States, Wild Horse Organized Assistance, Inc., and the International Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs are known to be opposed to the shooting part of the plan. The Sierra Club and the western section of the Wildlife Society, however, support the Park Service.

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