Texas authorities have agreed to consider non-lethal measures to control burro numbers in Big Bend Ranch State Park, but say the clear goal is still to remove the animals from the park.
The Humane Society of the United States has stepped in to help in finding alternatives to shooting the animals.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said it was unlikely to resume shooting burros until it was determined whether non-lethal measures were feasible.
Since the mid-2000s, the department’s state parks division has explored non-lethal options such as live trapping to remove the burros.
Staff met early on with veterinarians and other experts with the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) based in Presidio, but APHIS was unsuccessful in trapping feral burros along the US-Mexico Border within the state park.
In 2007, no feasible alternatives had been found and Texas authorities began shooting the burros.
In 2008, it temporarily ceased the operation to allow the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue to try live-trapping of burros at the park, but after nearly two years of efforts by the group no burros were caught.
In 2011, the department’s executive director, Carter Smith, challenged critics of the department’s burro control methods to bring resources to bear on the problem and to suggest practical alternatives.
“We have said consistently that Texas Parks and Wildlife does not have the financial resources to control burros at Big Bend Ranch State Park through alternatives such as capture and quarantine, but that we are open to substantive discussions with interested parties who wish to offer their own resources to help address this problem,” Smith said.
“However, any proposed plan must account for adequate and sustained funding, and we must be clear that the goal is to remove feral burros from the park.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has offered its resources to assess non-lethal options.
In January, state parks and HSUS staff met at Big Bend Ranch to assess the landscape and conditions.
HSUS is now working with a private contractor to conduct an aerial survey to determine the numbers and locations of burros in the park – an essential first step to assess costs and feasibility of control options.
The department has agreed to cost-share up to $US10,000 to help pay for the survey, which should occur this spring.
If the HSUS determines that non-lethal alternatives are feasible, the organization will prepare and submit to the department a proposal including a timeframe, strategies, methods and resources required to accomplish non-lethal management alternatives.
At present, there is no formal proposal or agreement between the department and the HSUS.
“We understand concerns that have been expressed by many people and are open to considering feasible, non-lethal alternatives,” Smith said.
“However, our basic policy is unchanged. Our responsibility to protect Big Bend Ranch State Park’s sensitive lands and waters is our highest priority.
“The need to control feral burros to protect park resources remains, and if non-lethal methods are determined to be unfeasible, we retain the option to conduct lethal control as conditions require.”
Smith said if the HSUS was able to commit to adequate and sustained funding for burro control, and if the methods proposed by the humane society were accepted by the department, the agency will help HSUS efforts by furnishing access, information and other available resources.
The burros are considered a threat to the state park’s native plants and animals, precious desert springs and seeps, and other natural and cultural resources.
The Texas department has a statewide policy to control all exotic, invasive plants and animals on its public lands.
Smith said it was unlikely the department would conduct lethal burro control in the near future, until it had been determined whether any non-lethal methods were feasible.