For most of its nearly 80-year history, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) has seen itself as a natural laboratory, desiring to test equipment Soldiers use in the most realistic natural environment possible to ensure it works as it should wherever in the world they are called upon to serve.
As such, YPG has a deeply vested interest in being good stewards of the environment, and the proving ground’s record in this area shines.
“We try to do proactive things to help the environment,” said Daniel Steward, YPG wildlife biologist. “That way, the range is always ready to be used for military testing.”
Among the multiple species found within YPG’s over 1,300 square miles of range space are wild burros, well known to all YPG personnel who spend their days in the field testing equipment. Though the burros are generally popular with the YPG workforce, the creatures occasionally cause mischief. For example, several years ago at least one enterprising burro managed to turn on a water spigot—he drank his fill, then departed with the tap still running.
“Food, water, and shelter are what draw wildlife into our area. When it gets really dry, burros are looking for water. Landscaping and sprinkler systems provide water—we really try to watch out for pooling water that would attract burros.”
Slow moving and with binocular vision, burros are incapable of moving out of the way of a vehicle moving at highway speeds in time to avoid a costly—and deadly—accident.
“As things dry out, they are looking for forage and water and we’ll have to continue being vigilant when driving on Highway 95. We’ve seen areas where if one burro gets hit by a vehicle, there will be others in short succession. When you see one burro, there are usually more nearby.”
Nighttime and twilight hours of dawn and dusk are particularly dangerous for motorists on Highway 95 and roads on YPG’s ranges.
“That’s when your visibility is the worst and when the burros are most active,” said Steward.
Mitigating the burro threat from the length of two-lane road with a higher traffic density than any other in Arizona is no easy task, but Steward and other wildlife officials have done the best they can.
“We’ve eliminated water sources near the roads to try to keep horses and burros as far away from Highway 95 as possible. It’s not healthy for the horses and burros to be exposed to high levels of traffic, for the animals or for the people.”
Officials also attempt to relocate burros by organizing gathers with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“If people let me know when they have specific damage they are receiving from burros, whether it is broken water lines or some other infrastructure damage, I can communicate that with BLM.”
The creatures tend to live long lives due to their sheer size and wary pack mentality that deters desert predators.
“Burros are big, strong, and have a herd to protect each other. A lot of times they are too dangerous for a predator to take down—it happens, but it is rare. Mountain lions are typically associated with sheep, not burros.”
Steward cautions that burros are still wild animals that should be treated as such. In particular, feeding a wild burro should be strictly avoided.
“When people start feeding the burros, they become a real nuisance. These are wild animals—one begging for food can be ornery. You want to keep a respectful distance from any wild animal.”