Facts About Feral Burros at Big Bend Ranch State Park
Texas Parks and Wildlife’s mission
- An essential part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mission is “to conserve natural and cultural resources for present and future generations.” To accomplish this goal the agency must maintain natural, indigenous plant and animal communities according to accepted scientific management principles. A primary challenge to maintaining natural communities within parks is the presence of feral and exotic species that can disrupt and even destroy natural habitats and communities. These threats include invasive plants such as water hyacinth, and animals such as exotic aoudad sheep and sika deer, feral goats and hogs at parks around the state.
- TPWD has photos of springs and creeks fouled by burro droppings at Big Bend Ranch State Park. In a landscape where water is limited and precious, this poses a serious threat to native wildlife in the park. Burros compete with native species for limited forage, decreasing available food sources for some animals and disrupting the food chain for other species. There is also evidence that burros are disturbing archeological sites. Burro removal is not done to increase hunting opportunities, but rather to protect the park’s native plant and animal populations. What is at stake is the protection of the desert ecosystem of the park.
- Watch video on YouTube that shows examples of feral burro impacts on fragile ecosystems, similar to Big Bend Ranch State Park.
- The feral burros in question are not native to Texas, or to the Western Hemisphere. Burros are not a “protected” species in the sense that whooping cranes or other threatened and endangered species are protected. However, there are a number of plants and animals occurring on Big Bend Ranch that are listed as threatened and endangered by state and federal agencies.
- These burros are not a “relic herd,” but are largely animals that have been abandoned by nearby ranches. Although some have said these animals are a “heritage species,” the presence of herds of free-ranging burros on Big Bend Ranch SP is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. The feral burros on Big Bend Ranch are believed to be domestic animals that have been abandoned in Mexico, plus the offspring of these animals.
- It would be irresponsible to allow even more significant damage to be done before taking actions to remove burros. Burros have already caused considerable damage to the natural resources of the park. Burros reproduce rapidly, and the damage will only increase as the number of burros grows. This puts them in direct conflict with TPWD’s conservation mission.
What Texas Parks and Wildlife is doing
- There has been no effort to hide the lethal removal of burros. In 2008, public meetings were held in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and Presidio to specifically brief the public on the problems of burros at Big Bend Ranch and TPWD management policies and actions.
- Feral and exotic species management is not a new issue for TPWD. Texas State Parks have had a mandate to eliminate exotic and feral animals since the early 1990s. Prudent management dictates that whatever methods are used for removal must be both appropriate and effective. In the case of large animals such as hogs, aoudads or feral burros, only two methods meeting these criteria have been identified: live trapping and removal, or shooting by certified shooters.
- The department has cooperated with experienced wild horse and burro rescue groups in an effort to capture and relocate the burros, yet the groups have not been able to remove a single burro from the park. Even if trapping or roundup efforts were successful, animals would require vaccinations and be subject to the mandatory quarantine period required by the Texas Animal Health Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they could be relocated to other areas. TPWD does not have the financial resources to control feral and exotic animals through capture and quarantine, but will continue to work with rescue groups which can offer their own resources.
Burros and bighorn sheep
- The department’s Bighorn Sheep Restoration Plan for Big Bend Ranch references scientific findings from other states that show the negative impact burros can have on bighorn sheep. Given the current distribution of burros and sheep in the park, there is little direct competition now, although conflicts are possible as bighorn sheep populations continue to expand. To sum up, burro control is needed to protect the park’s native plants and animals, lands and waters, regardless of the bighorn restoration project.
Exploring non-lethal options
- TPWD continues to explore non-lethal alternatives to manage the feral burro population at Big Bend Ranch, as it has since the early 2000s. The department continues to invite any reasonable and practical offers from groups who wish to offer alternatives, with the understanding that any proposal must include a commitment for adequate and sustained support, and the goal is to remove burros from the park.
- It is not likely that TPWD will conduct lethal burro control in the near future until it is determined whether non-lethal methods are feasible. However, department policy regarding feral and exotic species has not changed, the need to remove burros from the park remains, and TPWD retains the option to conduct lethal control if non-lethal options are not feasible.