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The QueQue: TPWD burro killings roiling West Texas, Preservation fights continue to percolate River Road

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TPWD burro killings roiling West Texas

When the Marfa Sentinel broke the news in 2007 that Texas Parks & Wildlife officials were secretly shooting down wild burros inside the more than 300,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park a park peace officer knew things we’re “going to hit the fan” and area residents agreed. An internal investigation was launched, ultimately finding that neither of the two state employees believed to have killed an estimated 71 wild burros left to rot where they fell had violated the state’s animal cruelty statute. That despite statements such as one TPWD official who said, “Some of the shots are not kill-type deals. They are wounded in the stomach or rear” and left to wander. After the shootings were stopped by order of the TPWD director in late 2007 the authors of the internal affairs investigation recommended public forums be held on the topic of control of invasive or nuisance species. Nothing of the kind materialized before the shootings began again this year.

Non-native animals in state parks are not welcome by policy. But it’s the reintroduction of the potentially very lucrative bighorn sheep at the park that some are attributing to the department’s renewed lethal zeal. “They want to make that into a playground for people like Rick Perry to be able to fly in and shoot a bighorn and fly out,” says Marjorie Farabee of Wild Burro Protection League, one of the group’s mobilizing resistance to the killings. “That doesn’t do anything for the local economy.”

To date, TPWD officials estimate they’ve killed 130 burros. Local response came with a town hall in Alpine last week, the appearance of “Burro Friendly” stickers in local storefronts, and a call to “Occupy Big Bend Ranch State Park.”

“Come on down, and bring your telephoto lenses,” said Farabee. “Just having people in the park is going to protect those burros because they don’t want anyone to see them shooting those animals.”

According to Big Bend-based equine photographer Rachael Waller: “No one is in favor of shooting burros down here. No one.”

Burros aren’t the only ones coming under fire. Elk are also being killed, too, as undesirables. Christopher Gill, a San Antonio-based managing partner of Circle Ranch in Hudspeth County who has been reviewing TPWD policies and internal communication, said: “They think that elk and burros harm bighorn sheep. To the best of my knowledge they have not studied any of this specifically. … Texas Parks and Wildlife are really nice guys, underpaid, overworked, sincere, persistent, and dead wrong.”

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