Texas Parks and Wildlife Kill Protected Species Without Remorse
He could hear her crying. It was a persistent, but soft plea from the tiny burro foal. He heard little bleats for she was not yet old enough to bray. In her big dark eyes he could see the confusion of this little one, as she tried to figure out why her mother would not move.
Luis Armendariz was horrified when he walked up to a scene in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas, which he supervised. It was a scene he would never forget. A young soft foal was trying to feed off her dead mother. So immediately, Mr. Armendariz called in the authorities, and launched an investigation. There were 71 dead and dying wild burros, and Luis Armendariz wanted to get to the bottom of it.
The investigator Robert Garcia answered the call, and when he discovered that the shootings were carried out by none other than TPWD directors, Don Shuly and Mike Hill, he bravely carried out the investigation anyway. He was shocked to discover that they drove all the way from Austin to stand on a mountain rim and shoot with sniper rifles burros trapped in the arroyo of a three sided canyon. It Is, unquestionably a disturbing image of willful malice. Without provocation, orders to do so, or notification of their intent to the park superintendent, Luis Armendariz, they carried out the deadly and cruel shootings of 71 trapped, wild burros. The scene of carnage that the park superintendent walked up on that day, in 2007 put a black eye on the face of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s image forever. The public outcry that followed, when the shootings were publicized caused the park to say they had stopped shooting the burros for a number of years. We have now discovered that they were simply more discreet about it, not wanting the public to know.
The investigation and cover up that followed the 2007 shootings, leaves one little doubt as to whom our state park really belongs. It certainly is not the common visitor who pays a fee at the gate. The park has been funding a program to reintroduce bighorn sheep to the park for trophy hunters. For the privilege of shooting one bighorn, a permit must be purchased ranging in price from $70,oo0.00 to $150,ooo.00. Incredibly, TPWD uses their bighorn program as justification for shooting the burros. They state that the burros compete with the bighorn for forage, and that the burros are feral. They state that being returned natives does not make them native. Does anybody see the hypocrisy at play here?
The fact is that the burros are a returned native species who has resided in the Big Bend area for centuries without causing damage. One of the most fascinating talents a burro has for survival is their instinct for finding water. These hardy animals can survive numerous days without water, which makes them ideally suited for the desert environments. Many a scout’s life was saved by their loyal companion the burro, as they trekked through these dynamic, beautiful, yet harsh terrains. The burro sensing water beneath the ground will stop, and then dig a 3 foot diameter hole, which fills with water. Not only does the burro drink, but so does wildlife, and birds. These stalwart, intelligent animals travel throughout the area, and near the Rio Grande. They have been documented in the Chihuahuan biosphere for hundreds of years.
In fact, one eye-witness report from the turn of the century by J.O. Langford, described the burros and the habitat as having “so much grass, it could never be eaten down”. He also spoke fondly of the burros and burros he owned who toiled on his homestead. This was in 1908. During WWI the price of meat skyrocketed, and ranchers wanting to take advantage of the boondoggle, moved livestock into the Big Bend area in enormous numbers. By 1927, Langford described a landscape lain barren, and water fouled. He said with the grasses gone the watershed pushed rocks off the mountains ruining fertile farm lands below. In twenty years time, the livestock brought in by ranchers laid waste a unique desert landscape, not meant for cattle or recovered enough for the high caloric requirements of another ruminant the bighorn sheep.
But, TPWD who choose to ignore environmental and biological science want to reintroduce bighorn sheep by calling them native. It is an interpretation that flies in the face of fact and logic. More importantly, studies at Big Bend have never been conducted. Nor have they ever done a count of burros, nor have they ever tried to develop these naturally occurring herds of native burros for tourism. They choose instead to develop their hunting programs and host youth hunting at the park. They really don’t care about science, there are people making policy for this park who have a clear prejudice for the burro.
After the outrage expressed by citizens over the deaths of 71 burros in 2007, died down, TPWD quietly reinstated their policy to eradicate all burros from state parks in Texas. . Then, in August of 2010 they stated that their policy would be to shoot them as a matter of “opportunity” while they carried out other functions in the park.
In February of 2011, I made a visit to Big Bend Ranch State Park, to follow up on the burros that I felt were still at risk in this park. I was accompanied by Craig Downer, a wildlife ecologist who noted that there were still cattle present in the park. We travelled to the scene of the carnage, in 2007, and noted the ruggedness of the terrain. Although we saw very few burros, we did find sign of burro presence in the park. We then after a week went to Austin which was 8 hours away to speak to the parks directors, Brent Leisure, David Riskind, and John Davis. They were clear that they were going to be shooting burros but also indicated that it would be a rare because they would not seek the burros out but only shoot them opportunistically if they should come across them during the course of their regular park functions.
One thing that is important to note in this discussion, is the fact that the locals want the burros to remain in the park. Their local economy is based on tourism, and the burros add to the ambiance and historic value of the area. While the park may receive huge revenue for encouraging trophy hunting, the numbers who can afford this privilege are few. Conversely, the 300,000 visitors a year who come to enjoy living nature at the park, paying only an entry fee, are many. These are the tourism dollars that matter to the local towns surrounding the park. The locals are being hurt by the policy to carry out this misguided and cruel policy of eradicating the historic, iconic burro from a landscape that has sustained them for centuries. In essence, it appears that the park is being turned into a game sanctuary enjoyed by the privileged few while funded by our tax dollars.
One of the locals who has been most active in preventing the unnecessary deaths of these remarkable animals whom many call the PhD’s of equines, is Curtis Swafford. After our visit in February 2011, he shot off a letter to Kevin Good who is an assistant to the park director. The answers he provided to Curtis Swaffords questions were stunningly heartbreaking. Nothing had changed. They were still gunning down groups of burros, every other week since August 2010, Mr. Good reported to Curtis how many were shot, where they were shot, and by whom. The number he reported came to 46, and is still rising since the pattern of killing seems to show a cycle of every other week killing between 5 and 9 burros. Who are we as a people? It’s a question that has deep meaning for me. So, I am going to provide you with the questions submitted by Curtis Swafford to the Kevin Good at TPWD, and the answers he received in response to these questions. Ask yourself, does this attitude toward our named national heritage species speak to who we are as a people?
Curt, I apologize for the delay in responding to your message, but I have been out of town. Here are the answers to your follow up questions.
#1:What are the dates the burros were shot and who were the shooters by name and title? What were the circumstances surrounding each shooting? If no one has ever been sent to BBRSP to shoot burros then how did the aforementioned burros end up shot,(name and title of shooters please)?
Answer: Resumption of feral burro control was reauthorized in June 2010. Since that time, all shootings of burros have been performed by Barrett Durst, Jaime Sanchez and Drew Hufstedler; Park Specialist/Park Peace Officers assigned to Big Bend Ranch. All shootings were performed when burros were encountered during the course of normal patrol or maintenance duties within the park.
- 4 burros on 8/17/2010, Fresno Canyon
- 2 burros on 10/7/2010, Guale Mesa
- 6 burros on 1/2/2011, Rancherias Canyon
- 4 burros on 1/22/2011, Rancherias Canyon
- 5 burros on 3/15/2011, Guale Mesa
- 7 burros on 4/16/2011, La Cuesta
- 6 burros on 6/18/2011, Rancherias Loop
- 6 burros on 6/22/2011, Rancherias Loop
- 4 burros on 7/4/2011, Tapado Canyon
- 1 burro on 7/10/2011, Grassy Banks
- 1 burro on 7/10/2011, Lower Madera
#2 Were the burros destroyed in any other way other than shooting them?
Answer: TPWD only uses shooting as a method to eliminate burros.
#3 Are you destroying the burros in the form of a scheduled action plan or just or by random selection?
Answer: Burros are destroyed only when authorized staff have the opportunity to do so in a safe and humane manner, when the burros are encountered during the course of normal operational duties. There is no “scheduled action plan”.
#4 What is the census of the burros?
Answer: The department has not conducted a census of the burro population at Big Bend Ranch. Department policy is to eliminate or minimize or the number of any and all feral and exotic species at Big Bend Ranch, as well as all other state parks.
#5 What methods do you use to arrive at that number?
Answer: At this time, staff has not attempted to count burros on the park.
#6 At what rate are the burros breeding and what methods do you use to determine that?
Answer: At this time, TPWD is not attempting to gather this data.
#7 what is the mortality rate both natural and manmade and what methods do you use to determine that?
Answer: TPWD has not attempted to determine this information.