The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday establishing penalties for people who feed or otherwise entice wild burros into populated areas of Riverside County, increasing the chances of an accident.
Ordinance No. 934, the Prohibiting the Harassment and Feeding of Undomesticated Burros Act, makes it an infraction to interact with untamed donkeys, herds of which are now spread throughout the Pigeon Pass and Reche Canyon areas, north of Moreno Valley, going into neighboring San Bernardino County.
The ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, mandates fines for violators, ranging from $100 to $500, depending on the number of offenses.
"There are people in Highgrove who have parked along the road and let the burros eat hay and apples out of the backs of their vehicles," Department of Animal Services Cmdr. Chris Mayer told the board. "We have had vehicle-versus-burro car wrecks."
Mayer said the worst accident occurred in 2005 when a 20-year-old woman was fatally injured when a car plowed into two mules standing on a road in an unincorporated community.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission highlighted the growing problem of burro encounters in December 2015 while running speed tests on the Perris Valley Line, which expanded commuter rail service from Riverside to the north edge of Menifee.
Burros were wandering over or extremely close to the tracks as Metrolink and RCTC initiated trial runs, requiring authorities to scare the animals away.
Mayer said fences have been erected to keep burros away from rail lines, but a few still manage to get on or near the tracks, requiring animal control officers to round them up and relocate them.
"In the wild, burros eat mostly grass or vegetation and fear people and vehicles," Animal Services Director Rob Miller wrote in a public memo in April. "However, due to easy access to foods not generally found in the wild, burros' behavior has adapted. Instead of normal grazing, the burros now seek out populated areas, roadways and people in order to obtain the treats provided."
The U.S. government enacted the Wild Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act in 1971 in an effort to control where undomesticated horses and mules go, but it only applies to federal lands.
Miller said Ordinance No. 934 replicates a California Department of Fish & Game regulation that "expressly prohibits the harassment and feeding of undomesticated burros."