Texas Wild Burros Getting Stubborn Allies

By John MacCormack, EXPRESS-NEWS Staff

Protests over policy to kill Wild Burros in Big Bend growing

Marjorie, Abbey and Friend at Protest Parade, Alpine Texas ~ photo by Terry Fitch

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.

Where else would one find the “Big Bend Donkeys Social Club,” a group of donkey owners formed earlier this year by Cindy Muench, 62, a local counselor.

“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.”

32 comments on “Texas Wild Burros Getting Stubborn Allies

  1. http://austinist.com/2006/08/31/texas_state_parks_gov_perrys_doubletalkin_jive.php
    Texas State Parks: Gov. Perry’s Double-Talkin’ Jive
    This month, $46 million in revenue from hunting & fishing licenses fees – money that is typically collected to help fund the state’s park system – was found sitting in state bank accounts, untouched. Additionally, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram has recently discovered documents showing that Perry’s office has been pushing for the sale of 400 acres of state park land in Tarrant County. Despite numerous phone records & emails that suggest Perry’s plans for the public land, his spokesperson has flatly denied all of it. Yet it’s common knowledge that, last fall, Perry’s office unsuccessfully pushed for the sale of a massive portion of beautiful Big Bend State Park in west Texas

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  2. Can any of the attendees at the community meeting talk about the general;mood of the crowd? Who came from the local area and what they felt?

    I know how the speakers feel and their positions. I’m just curious about the nonspeakers level of interest…how did the parade go Marjorie? I love your rig!

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    • People were angry and upset. One woman angrily responded that she makes her living off of the burros. She is an artist, and her favorite subject is the burro. Many were shocked and surprised that the killing was being done with the intent of wiping them out completely. And others were extremely upset to learn about elk, aoudad, cougar, and bobcat being on the list for eradication, too. (the bobcat and cougar they intend to wipe out in areas close to bighorn habitat, first snaring and then shooting them). The people we met at the meeting, and later at our booth on Saturday expressed a desire to do something to stop it. Now, that is our next step. We have some heavy hitters who are behind the Wild Burro Protection League’s efforts to keep the burros in the park. We also learned from locals that they are using helicopters to kill the burros, and more shooters have been brought in. We may need to start rescue procedures before we can get them protections. Much to think about, and decisions must be made soon.

      This journalist, MacCormick was trying to portray me as uneducated, and radical. He has misquoted me several times. There were some excellent articles posted where the writers seemed more willing to accept the science that the burros are native. I also informed MacCormick that the bighorn had never had presence in the Big Bend Ranch State Park before, and once again, he wrote what he wanted. Even with Craig telling him that the burro is native directly, and citing all the scientists who also state this fact, he wrote what he wanted to write.

      The stickers “Burro Friendly” are going up all over town. We are going to order bumper stickers too. Chey, Rachael Waller Rondeaux’s daughter rode Hannah, and was really a show stopper. That child can ride, and she and Hannah really clicked. Little baby Liberty, who is almost 6 months old, stood outside the Granada Theatre with Chey and Zachary. They were stopping traffic, and flashes were going off non-stop. People loved her cute fuzzy face. We are not giving up, and soon will return with an action plan. I owe Terry Fitch, big time. She drove us the entire way, with a 45′ trailer. Twelve hours of driving, and some of it through rough weather. She made it possible for all of us to be there. Thank you Terry Fitch!!!! At least, on our way back, it was not raining, and it was all down hill.

      Rachael Waller Rondeaux opened her house and yard to all of us. We were made to feel so at home. Imagine the first night. We left in a rain storm, and it was a long trip. We were at a much higher elevation, and it was really cold when we got there. After we got all the long ears settled, we walked in to her living room, and there in the fireplace was the most wonderful, glowing and warm fire. We felt blessed.

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      • Thank you for the recap…nothing better than good people trying to the right thing. I wish the entire world could be like that.

        I look forward to rescue effort plan.

        Thanks again.

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      • Getting them out of there is necessary. This is what I was afraid of. The number is low enough to adopt them over time. Many people want them who have horses. They are learning what good watchdogs they are.

        We are Wild Horse and BURRO Warriors! We will help, Marjorie.

        They are stepping up the killing now? They had said before it was just being done here and there. It seems that is over and these burros are now a priority to remove. Catastrophe!

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      • This was a town hall meeting with the towns people being the focus. There was a question and answer period, that if they had wanted to make a statement they would have been heard. We organized this event to find out how the people of the local towns felt about their burros, and to see if the determination existed to keep them in the park. It does, and they made it clear. If anyone from TPWD had shown up and requested a few minutes to speak, we probably would have allowed it, but as I said this event was for the people who are losing their wildlife. We will have future town halls.

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  3. Thank you Marjorie and protesters! It seems like there oughta be room enough for both burros and big horns. I’m sure they would learn to coexist peacefully if allowed to do so. And I hope you guys can throw Perry and his cronies out of office come next election!

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    • Basically they are turning Big Bend Ranch State Park into a playground for high rollers who contribute big to Perry’s campaign. The current Chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission contributed $715,000 to Perry’s campaign, and the previous Chair, Peter Holt contributed $530,000. to Perry. Makes you wonder what they get in return. Here is the radio interview we did in Marfa. http://www.marfapublicradio.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/TLK-111116-Marjorie-Farabee-Burro-Protection-League.mp3

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      • Texas has for decades been a place where top military brass and the rich have hunted on Game farms. Private ones. Using public lands for this kind of elitist activity is Wrong. State parks or national parks- should not have hunting anyway. Preserves and our National Wildlife Refuge System should not be hunting their inhabitants. But there budgets are low and have been for a long time. Hunting brings in money. But so do the tourists and others who come to look at these places and spend time and money doing so. Why would hunters trump families? Again I think it is the history there.

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  4. I just want all this killing of animals, and now with the possible new healthcare plan of Mr. B.H.O. seniors ? If your an older senior citizen, and need major surgery, you will get on a “terminal list”. Is everyone crazy anymore???? Stop the killing !!!

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  5. …and who will stand up for the big horn sheep? Why don’t they just tether them to a tree and bring in the hunters? Maybe paint a bullseye on their bodies and whoever hits center gets the head for his trophy room. Maybe BLM could gather them with helicopters and as they run thru the trap wings the hunters (brave men) could pick them off. How about we run all those DC types thru the desert for 2& 1/2 hours and when they fall down exhausted, BLM decides life or death. I fear for this country….lunatics in power.

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    • Actually, Ann the bighorn are treated like royalty. Their every need is attended to, and they are in fact bred elsewhere. These bighorn are a mixture of several subspecies, and are implanted with gps. The bighorn are not listed as threatened world wide like the auodad, and E. africanus asinus. So, I am not feeling a lot of sympathy for the bighorn. Although I will say, I find trophy hunting to be disgusting.

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      • They have been so determined to have these animals succeed. Like I said, if you go back through all the programs with BHS for decades it would add up to a huge amount of money and time, too! Huge. Every place they bring them they have problems. This is an absurdity. They are creating a breed which is even less native and less deserving of this attention.

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      • When “Exotics” were banned in the 80s how did we get them back here in Texas? Why do they get to have them and we cannot have a returned native species? This is hypocritical.

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  6. Ann, there are many of us fighting for all of the animals in Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are other approaches to wildlife management. Like you, my heart is as firmly tied to the bighorn sheep as it is to the wild burros, the aoudads, the elk, and other animals on the TPWD’s extermination list.

    Denise, I was unable to attend the Alpine meeting, but I did hear from Marjorie. I don’t normally feel comfortable speaking for others, but I know she is very busy with the cause. I will let her know there are questions for her on this website.

    Marjorie did say the turnout was more than she expected, that local residents were outraged by the shootings, and that they were excited about incorporating the animals into cultural activities in the area. She is a strong, determined, knowledgeable woman, the perfect voice for these blessed creatures, and I feel certain she will succeed in this fight.

    Thank you Mr. Fitch for posting these articles. It is helpful to all of us who are trying to stay informed on this issue. Your hard work and dedication to the welfare of animals is greatly appreciated and admired.

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  7. Be on the alert that “they” don’t make some sort of an attempt to privatize those Parks. I listened to one of the hearings on C-Span where the Committee on Natural Resources was talking about Public Lands. That was where they were headed…PRIVATIZATION.

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  8. Marjorie, I posted the link to the news article above. The way I see it is that FIRST, “they” take away the funding from the Parks. NO funding, No money for upkeep or for staff (except snipers to kill Burros). NEXT, sell it off…portion by portion.

    “Yet it’s common knowledge that, last fall, Perry’s office unsuccessfully pushed for the sale of a massive portion of beautiful Big Bend State Park in west Texas”

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  9. Go back even further:
    http://stevesmarketanddeli.com/2006/08/republican-rick-perry-and-texas-state.htm
    Tuesday, August 01, 2006
    Republican Rick Perry and Texas State Parks: Too little too late !
    Bell presses Perry on park money
    Texas ranks near bottom in funding of state parks.
    By Asher Price
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    Tuesday, August 01, 2006
    Speaking at McKinney Falls State Park in Southeast Austin, Bell blasted Gov. Rick Perry. Texas ranks near the bottom in state park funding as a percentage of total state spending, according to the National Association of State Park Directors. In 2001, Texans approved a $101 million state bond package designed to improve park infrastructure. But only $54.8 million of that money has been appropriated by the Legislature.
    “Rick Perry,” he said, “has presided over a raid on parks funding.
    “Rick Perry defied (Texas voters). He stood in the way while the parks waste away.”

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  10. I have heard the idea bandied about that management of Parks should be turned over to private companies. Fiscal problems make a very good excuse for cutting Park budgets. You can bet there would then be deals made as to who would end up managing the Parks.

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    • Thank you for this information Louie. At the last Commissioners meeting they approved the purchase of thousands more acres to be added to Big Bend Ranch State Park. We’ll need to follow the paperwork, and I have just the people to do it. Thank you again.

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  11. Yes, and there is well founded evidence and professional paleontological beliefs that the burro itself originated in North America. But those who refuse to look at the evidence because their minds are made up, those in positions of authority, are doing a great injustice to these wonderful restorers of the North American ecosystem.

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