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Refuge Roundup

Wild horses near a trampled-on natural spring inside the Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge, May 31, 2007 on the Nevada-Oregon border. Wild horse groups have applauded a recent delay of plans to thin these herds but that decision means pronghorn antelope, pygmy rabbits, sage grass and other critters will have more competition for scarce resources.(AP Photo/USFWS)

Efforts are planned in July and August to remove all feral burros and horses from the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.

Those wishing to observe the burro gather that’s expected to last from July 14 to 18 have until June 30 to apply; a deadline for the horse gather has not yet been finalized.

The Sheldon refuge, located just south of the Oregon and Nevada border about 65 miles from Lakeview, is managed by the Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Lakeview.

Megan Nagel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Portland regional office, said the goal is to remove about 70 feral burros from the Sheldon refuge as part of ongoing management actions to protect the refuge’s native wildlife and habitat.

Protecting native wildlife

In August, the Service will begin to gather about 420 feral horses, also to protect native wildlife.

Nagel said the goal is to remove all burros and horses from the refuge. After they are captured, the service will work with adoption contractors, such as Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, to have feral horses and burros adopted.

The Sheldon refuge, which spans 575,000 acres, is the largest remaining intact tract of the Great Basin ecosystem in the American West. It was established in 1931 to protect native wildlife, especially the American pronghorn, also known as antelope. The refuge also has several rare and imperiled species, including the greater sage grouse.

“The once-domestic feral horses and burros, which some people call wild horses and burros, cause significant damage to the refuge’s fragile landscape,” Nagel said. “If feral horses and burros are not removed from Sheldon, the Service will be unable to restore and conserve habitat conditions for native, fish, wildlife and plants that depend on the refuge. Removing feral horses and burros is critical to conserve and protect the native habitat and wildlife that depend on the refuge”

Damaging landscape

She said the refuge previously had more than 1,600 feral horses and burros that “significantly damaged the fragile landscape. These once-domestic animals compete directly with native wildlife for forage and water, both scarce resources in this arid environment. Though cattle grazing is not allowed on the refuge, feral horses and burros place year-round pressure on native habitats and wildlife and scarce water resources.”

Nagel said studies indicate feral horses and burros have degraded almost half of the streams and 80 percent of the refuge’s springs and other riparian areas, such as wet meadows, ephemeral wetlands, and emergent marshes.

During the gathers, which have drawn attention from groups opposing the removal of horses and burros, Nagel said the service is “committed to humane treatment of all animals. Animals will be gathered and transported to selected adoption contractors, consistent with the guidelines for humane treatment and safety outlined in the Sheldon comprehensive conservation plan.”

Occasional closures

To conduct effective and efficient operations, improve safety for horses and burros, and to ensure public safety, Nagel said the administrative facility, where horses and burros are held temporarily, will be closed to public entry.

Portions of the Sheldon’s surrounding gather operations, including some roads, will be occasionally closed to public entry July 14 through Oct. 15.

Nagel said the Service will provide limited escorted opportunities for the public and media to observe feral burro gather operations from July 14 to 18.

“Primary considerations for selection of observation sites are safety and to ensure efficient and effective gather operations,” she said. “The exact location of the gather sites will depend on site-specific conditions that may vary from day-to-day. The observation locations will be selected to provide an opportunity to view the gather without disrupting gather operations or creating a safety hazard. Consequently, members of the public/media should not expect opportunities for up-close observation or observation of all gather operations and should be prepared to travel to different locations within the broader gather area.”

It’s expected the burro gather will end July 18, although schedules are subject to change.