Burros in Big Bend State Park—a Dissenting View

Burros in Big Bend State Park—a Dissenting View
By Pauline Singleton, GHHC Director

Burros are cute—there is no doubt about it. Their widespread appeal is understandable.

Nevertheless, their place in not running wild on our public lands. Our state parks should not be used to support herds of feral burros. In particular, the Big Bend area is too arid—too fragile--to bear this burden.

Many (and I am one of them) feel that state and national parks should be refuges for our native flora and fauna. If the burro population reaches a certain point, populations of some other species will almost ghhc.com.ebozavr.com certainly decline. Burros are not unique in that regard. Let white-tailed deer become too numerous, and songbird species go into decline. The white-tailed deer is a native species, of course, but we have removed the predators that keep its population in check.

I know what some will say.

There were equids on the North American continent during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Well, there also were camels and mastodons. No rational person would suggest that we bring camels and elephants to our parks and turn them loose to multiply, just because their remote ancestors roamed North America. They have been gone too long. Their return only disrupts ecosystems that have evolved without them over many millennia.

Does no one consider the disease aspect of this situation? Some of the burros in the Big Bend region no doubt come across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

Some of them could easily be infected with piroplasmosis or equine infectious anemia. No livestock should be allowed to wander across the border untested and freely roam about.

The alternative to killing the burros would be to capture and remove them. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. will allow you to do that, if you want to save the animals. In my opinion, people should either go out there and remove the burros, or allow TPWD to do whatever it has to do to properly manage our natural resources. As everyone knows, our parks are short on cash these days. Their options are somewhat limited.

Our organization would have done well to invite someone from TPWD to come and present its side of this matter before taking a position. That was not done. This is disappointing.

  4 comments for “Burros in Big Bend State Park—a Dissenting View

  1. NancyLee
    February 21, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I’d like to respond to a couple of statements made in “A Dissenting View”.

    First, the author is correct in saying that a number of large mammal species besides equids evolved on the North American continent and then vanished during the last Ice Age. Horses and other large mammals, such as the mastodon, sabertooth tiger and giant ground sloth, became extinct in North America between 10-12,000 years ago, coinciding with the first settlement of humans on the continent (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091127140706.htm). The horse had successfully expanded to Asia by that time and so equids were not lost to the planet – unlike the mastodon, sabertooth tiger and giant ground sloth. Let’s consider, then, the argument that the ecosystems in North America have substantially evolved (moved on, as it were) since equidae left, and there’s no longer a place here for horses and their cousins. If that were true, they probably wouldn’t be able to survive here, but they do very well. More importantly, equus evolved and lived on the North American continent for about a million and a half years, long before humans graced the planet and far longer than their arrival in North America. Why should humans have a right to exist in our ecosystems if equus does not? Why should cattle and other human-domesticated animals have a right to range in place of the buffalo we eradicated? Humans are the greatest disrupters of any ecosystem in which they appear and are solely responsible for innumerable extinctions. Burros hardly challenge the human’s capacity for destruction; rather, they live lightly on the land and watch us from afar. They might, though, bray warnings at bighorn sheep, creating difficulties for hunters after a $100,000+ trophy head. And maybe that is the real ecosystem issue? Otherwise, why not let the sheep and burros co-exist?

    Second, the “disease aspect”, as stated here, makes no sense at all. The burros don’t know there’s a national border between Texas and Mexico. They simply live in the Chihuahuan Desert. The idea that there should be some magic germ barrier between an area 3 miles south of the U.S. border and 3 miles north of it is symptomatic of the peculiar human notion that our rules should control everything in nature. We’re talking about wild animals here. We don’t require them to carry passports in order to cross our border and we don’t expect them to bring “in” exotic diseases from 3 miles away.

    Good luck with humans “properly managing our natural resources”. If we could eliminate greed and ambition from our motives, check our science before acting, and learn to cooperate like a herd of burros, we might have a chance.

  2. austinhouse
    February 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    It does not appear that you know what the effect will be of removing the burros. Nor the effect of bringing in big horn sheep for expensive hunt-fests. How many burros are there? Any clue? How are you going to prevent the big horns from crossing the border? A little BSE in the mix? One wonders if you feel hostility toward burros or all equine, and for what purpose you play a role on the horse council.

  3. February 22, 2012 at 1:22 am

    How disappointing it is to hear a view point from this great organization that is based on conjecture and not facts. Are you aware that the park has never conducted a single study to back their claims that the burros do damage? Not one. We have asked. Are you also aware that TPWD is not stopping with the burro? In fact, they are determined to kill ALL of our federally protected national heritage species the wild burro, along with ALL the native elk, and the globally critically endangered aoudad who are found on state-owned land. Add to the carnage the snaring and killing of all bobcat and cougar found near bighorn habitat, and you have a recipe for ecosystem collapse.

    The burro who did originate in North America also evolved with the fauna found on this continent, and is in fact known as nature’s gardener. They have simply refilled their niche. Why is that? Because they are a mono-gastric digester unlike the ruminants who comprise the other large ungulates in the region. Because they do not completely break down the food that they eat, they reseed, moisturize, and fertilize the soil. Did you know that over 100 species of mammals, amphibians, and birds are dependent on the acacia for food or habitat? Guess who spreads the acacia? Did you know the endangered leopard frog is dependent on the burro to provide passage through thick grasses to get to riparian areas? Areas where burros were removed, saw the leopard frog disappear. This the problem with wholesale removal of ANY species en toto from an ecosystem. The law of unintended consequences will result in some plant not growing anymore, or some bird not having habitat, etc. No one knows the complete symbiotic relationships that exist in this ecosystem that has had the permanent presence of burros for at least the past 500 years since their known reintroduction by Cabaza de Vaca in 1527. How could they know without studies? Show me the studies!

    I have read numerous homesteader accounts of what the area was like 100 years ago, and all describe a ecosystem so full of grass “it could never be eaten down”. This ecosystem they describe had burros! Many, many more than are present today. Now, then you want to discuss disease. They are wild animals, just like the others who cross back and forth through this globally recognized biosphere of 5 million acres. Are you suggesting that all the elk, bighorn, rabbits, birds etc etc should be shot because they MIGHT carry a disease? That narrow mindset is insane.

    Another aspect you have not taken into consideration is the way the locals feel about these burros. Because YOU do not live near these parks I find your judgement of what should happen to animals revered and loved by the local communities to be pompous. The people in these border towns do cherish these burros. There are dozens of landmarks named after burros. The Southern Pacific Railroad was built by burros. School children where carted to school by burros. Even the Terlingua mines who not only used them to work also received their milk deliveries on the back of burros. The argument for them staying in the lands they have always called home is not JUST about the ecosystem, it is about their cultural and historical importance to the PEOPLE WHO LIVE THERE.

    Moreover, your opinion concerning these burros is not taking into consideration the millions of people who, unlike you, enjoy seeing wild burros. This park would benefit from the added tourism dollars of people coming JUST to observe them living gloriously free in the ecosystem that has always been their home. It is a shame that you don’t like burros, but of course you don’t have to go to this park, you can choose another. But, for those of us who love the burro, Big Bend Ranch State Park is their last stand. Allow us to have this one park for our burros, as you enjoy whatever it is you enjoy elsewhere. Let me be clear, this IS the LAST herd of wild burros in the state of TX.

    Whether you grasp the implications of losing this wellspring of precious genetics or not is not my problem. However, preserving the wild representatives of all of our domestic animals is critical to their future and ours. As animals are bred for our human pleasure, the genetic coding becomes more narrow which leaves these breeds vulnerable to disease that could will destroy entire breeds (an excellent example would be the potato famine which was caused because the one type of potato grown was not resistant to blight, and it wiped out the entire potato crop of the country of Ireland, and millions starved) Without the wild representations of these animals (and plants) they become at ever greater risk of die out because of a lose of their genetic diversity.

    I want to add one more thing. I am trying to keep this short, but the subject is vast, complex and important. Land needs animal impact. Without it soils die, microbes die, animals die. Please take a look at some important articles on the subject by a resident of the area who owns a 32,000 acre ranch next to the Diablo Wildlife Management Area. http://www.circleranchtx.com Mr. Gill is a burro supporter because he has seen first hand their value to a ecosystem. Please look at his articles about the burros, the habitat and elk crisis. Also, check out the work of Alan Savory who has brought back desertificated landscapes through the use of animal impact. It is amazing.

  4. jcaramante
    February 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you for the well thought out comments. Please know this is not the view of the entire board of the Greater Houston Horse Council, but rather one person on the board. The GHHC as a whole voted on a resolution to stop the shootings of the burros at Big Bend State Park.

    Thank you,

    Julie Caramante
    GHHC Director

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