By John MacCormack, EXPRESS-NEWS Staff
Protests over policy to kill Wild Burros in Big Bend growing
ALPINE — While it wasn’t exactly Occupy Wall Street, the indignation and hyperbolic class rhetoric sounded quite familiar when local residents met here recently to protest the killing of wild burros at the Big Bend Ranch State Park.
“The 1 percent are dictating policy, which is for the bighorn sheep. The 99 percent, the average people going to that park, are never going to see a sheep,” said Marjorie Farabee, founder of the Wild Burro Protection League and a Director of Wild Horse Freedom Federation.
“I’m challenging people to go down there with a long lens and take pictures of them shooting the burros. It’s gonna be a human shield,” she added.
A town hall meeting last week at the old Granada Theater, complete with a live burro foal out front, drew about three dozen people and several out-of-state burro experts. Officials from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department did not attend.
The meeting was called in reaction to a state policy of eradicating migratory feral burros on the 315,000 acre park, in part to make life easier for the Big Horn Sheep, a long absent species that was reintroduced last year.
The elusive, curly-horned sheep are a highly prized game animal. The burros, on the other hand, are non-native animals, like wild hogs, and thus, have no place at the park, according to state policy.
“Our policy is to try and eliminate all non-native species to the extent possible. Whether that happens through lethal removal or trapping and putting them up for adoption is fine with us,” said Kevin Good, special assistant to Brent Leisure, director of state parks.
“Yes, there was an impetus when the Big Horn came in, but we’ve been doing lethal removal of all kinds of animals for twenty plus years. To say it’s a direct link — yes and no,” said Good, who noted that the Texas Wildlife Association favors burro removal.
The state has done no studies to prove that burros are harmful, and instead has simply tried to eliminate them. Since 2007, more than 120 have been killed at the park. Efforts by an outside group to catch them alive in 2008 failed.
“Killing donkeys is a terrible thing to do,” said Mike Hill, a former regional director, who shot dozens of them in 2007.
“But you have to put the feral burros in the park in the same category as the feral cats in Austin. They are destructive. They don’t belong there and they have no natural controls over them,” he said.
And since it would be almost impossible to round them up, the only other alternative would be to build about 30 miles of fence to keep the burros out of the park, a prohibitively expensive option, he said.
But unlike the nutria, fire ants, wild hogs and aoudad — other non-native species now found in Texas — burros inspire profound emotional attachments in humans and also have deep roots in the Big Bend’s cultural heritage.
“I think donkeys are becoming a fad with middle-aged women. When we were younger, we probably all loved horses, but now as we get older, we want something a bit more suitable,” she said.
Muench, who has also used donkeys as therapy aids, deplores the killing of the Big Bend Ranch burros, but is not involved with the protest effort.
And where else would the death of someone like the Big Bend’s familiar but mysterious “Donkey Lady,” who for decades wandered the roadways accompanied only by a burro, be treated as front-page news?
“Burro Friendly” stickers are now appearing in local business windows, and donkeys also marched in the Saturday parade here during Artwalk, a festival that draws 30,000 people to Alpine.
In a full-page advertisement, the Wild Burro Protection League urged that the animals be not only protected, but incorporated into the region’s tourist industry.
“We propose the establishment of Wild Texas Donkey and Mule Days,” it read, an event that could bring such activities as burro pack racing, long ear competition and donkey trekking.
Curtis Imrie, 65, a three-time champion pack-burro racer from Colorado, urged the group last Wednesday to develop burro-themed tourist events. In pack-burro racing, styled to imitate an old mining tradition, a human and a loaded burro together race a course of up to 30 miles.
“You folks have to take a stand. We have to stop killing the wild donkeys. It’s the people’s land. These clowns in Austin are supposed to be working for you,” he said of state park officials.
Craig Downer, a wildlife ecologist from Nevada said both mustangs and burros have steadily lost range in the west, despite being afforded explicit protections in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act in 1971.
“It’s a source of great grief to me how abysmally our government has betrayed the nobility of the act,” he said. Because they are on state land, the Big Bend burros have no protections.
But despite all the outrage, there are few obvious means to influence state policy.
While Farabee intends to soon ride a burro to Austin to deliver an online protest petition containing 100,000 names to Gov. Rick Perry, it will have mostly symbolic value. She said the next step might be a legal challenge.
Sally Cervenka, who lives east of the state park, doesn’t own a burro but often sees wild ones crossing her remote property.
“I don’t snuggle up to burros, but I think they have a place out here,” she said after the meeting, adding, “I think it’s horrible they are killing them.”
- West Texas Wild Burro Controversy Flares Again for Texas Parks (rtfitch.wordpress.com)
- No Fences on Perry’s Texas Border, but They Shoot Immigrant Burros (rtfitch.wordpress.com)
- Texas Is Shooting Donkeys, Stirring Burro Backlash (abcnews.go.com)
- Wild Burro Advocate Speaks Out to Trigger Happy Texas Commission (rtfitch.wordpress.com)