HOUSTON (AP) — Longhorn cattle made Texas great long before the heady days of oil gushers. They are revered as a symbol of the state's wild west heritage and honored as the University of Texas mascot.
The Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/15zNRqU ) reports so when word spread that Texas Parks and Wildlife had sold nearly a third of the 372 head of this esteemed breed being preserved on state parkland, there was naturally outrage.
So much so that state Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, a veterinarian by trade, has introduced a bill in the Legislature to end what he sees as the destruction of the state's heritage.
The Waco Republican and others recalled how this breed — brought to the New World on Christopher Columbus' second voyage and working its way to the Lone Star State by the 1700s — had been saved after being headed to extinction faster than the buffalo by the 1930s.
That's when Texas historian J. Frank Dobie helped round up what remained of the breed with iconic horns that stretch an average 10 to 12 feet from tip to tip. He preserved them by helping form what has become the official state longhorn herd, said Kurt Kemp, who helps manage it.
This official herd today stands at about 200 head and is kept at San Angelo State Park and Fort Griffin State Park and Historic Site. Another herd of 149 longhorns also is being preserved at the 311,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park. An additional 23 were used as exhibits and spread between three other parks.
But seven months ago, park officials decided to eliminate the large breeding herd at Big Bend and reduce it to just an exhibit of 10 head enclosed in a fenced 3,000-acre pasture.
So far they have gathered 107 head that were scattered over the rugged mountainous terrain there and sold them for $32,000, leaving about 42 head still there.
"We want to protect all those that are left," Anderson said. "This is an important bloodline dating back many years. Texas A&M and University of Texas researchers have tested them, and the tests shows they are from the authentic longhorn bloodline."
He said this wildlife is a "unique asset" needing protection as much as the flora and fauna.
However, Evelyn Merz, conservation chairwoman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, thinks the purity of the breed at Big Bend may have been compromised by stray cattle from other ranches because of a patchwork of fencing around the state park.
Also, she said the longhorns are trampling and destroying stream beds and delicate desert springs in their quest for water.
"The longhorns have a strong position in Texas ranching heritage as a hardy breed, because they are relatively lean, drought and disease tolerant and know how to survive in tough conditions," said parks and wildlife director Brent Leisure. But, he said, they also monopolize limited water supply.
So park officials decided to only breed the animals at San Angelo and Fort Griffin and use Big Bend for exhibiting small numbers of the breed in a confined area where they would be more visible to tourists.
"We don't need a zoo," responded Anderson, whose bill would force the state to keep the longhorn herd at its current level. "We need to maintain a heritage where this breed can roam free over hundreds of thousands of acres."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com