Location: The Lake Pleasant Herd Management Area (HMA) is located just 25 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona, west of Interstate Highway 17 and north of State Highway 74. Taking its name from the well-known body of water found here, the HMA lies northeast of Lake Pleasant.
Size: This HMA is 103,000 acres in the Sonoran Desert.
Habitat: The area’s rugged mountains, numerous small canyons and open rolling hills cut across the HMA landscape. The vegetation is very typical of the upper Sonoran Desert, where palo verde and mixed cacti are common. Wildlife species sharing the region with the wild burros include desert mule deer, javelina and mountain lions. Other animals found here are small mammals, songbirds, amphibians and reptiles.
History: The wild burros living here are believed to be descendants of pack burros, which escaped or were released during the 1880s and 1890s. This was an era of extensive mining activity along the Agua Fria River and nearby Bradshaw Mountains. The burros were generally used by prospectors in search of gold, but were served as pack animals carrying ore to mill sites located along the Agua Fria River and other free-flowing streams in the area. Additionally, burros were used to haul supplies back into remote mining camps.
Population: Wild burros evolved in the harsh deserts of North Africa and are very well adapted to the dry desert environment. Left alone in the remote region with few natural predators, the wild burro population flourished. Today, the population of burros remains fairly constant within the HMA at about 357 animals. The burros in this area weigh about 425 pounds and stand about 40 inches high. The majority of the burros living within the HMA boundaries congregate in or around Lake Pleasant Regional Park as a result of abundant food and water.
Management: Wild burros living within the Lake Pleasant HMA are managed in an ecological balance within their habitat to protect the forage. This ensures that there is food available for the animals to remain healthy, while allowing livestock and other wildlife to thrive. When the wild burro population exceeds the Appropriate Management Level of 208 burros, some animals are removed and offered to the public through the BLM’s Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro Program.
A unique management action required within this HMA is caused by the lake’s fluctuating water levels. A manmade reservoir, Lake Pleasant is part of the Central Arizona Project canal system. This operating reservoir stores and releases water into the canal as needed. When water levels are high, ridges allowing access to the lake become islands. Burros caught on the ridges when the water rises to higher elevations can end up trapped on these newly formed islands. If burros are in danger, or there is insufficient habitat for survival, a rescue operation is initiated by the BLM to relocate the animals. In the past, burros have been airlifted by helicopter, or assisted from an island by a boat. Rescued animals are then relocated to another area within the HMA, or if they require medical attention, they are transported to a corral facility. When fully recovered, these burros are offered to the public through the adoption program.