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Contact: Raymond Skiles, 432-477-1145
The National Park Service invites public comments on a plan to manage non-native, exotic animals in Big Bend National Park. The 30-day review and comment period for the park’s Exotic Animal Management Plan and Environmental Assessment begins January 29 and will remain open for 30 days.
To protect the park’s natural and cultural resources and the visitor experience, the National Park Service proposes to manage aoudad (Barbary sheep) and feral hogs using lethal means. Control of these populations is proposed as these non-native species compete with and consume native species, alter species composition, threaten biodiversity, and impair the visitor’s ability to experience natural conditions and scenery.
Aoudad have been in the park for the past three decades, and have increased significantly in recent years. Estimates suggest 200 to 400 aoudads now inhabit the park. Aoudads are major competitors to native desert bighorn sheep. Feral hogs are present in low numbers in the park’s northern extremity, and are expected to invade the heavily vegetated, 113-mile Rio Grande corridor in coming years. Additionally, the park wishes to prevent feral hogs from invading the Chisos Mountains, a small range within the park that contains rare montane woodlands and hosts endangered, rare and isolated native species.
The environmental assessment considers two alternatives. No-action, which would allow continued and increasing impacts from these exotic species on the park’s natural and cultural resources and the visitor experience; and the proposed action alternative. This second alternative includes limited aerial shooting (from helicopter) of aoudad and feral hogs, and ground-based live-trapping and shooting of feral hogs. Aerial control would be performed only by experienced professionals. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has offered to provide initial aerial control of aoudad in areas of the park that are important to desert bighorn sheep conservation. U.S. Department of Agriculture and professional aerial animal management contractors are also available. Limits on timing, location, and duration of control actions, and other best practices and mitigations, would minimize undesirable effects.
Control actions would employ the most humane feasible methods. No poisons, snares, or leg-hold traps will be used. Only lead-free bullets would be used to minimize impacts to scavengers. Aerial control of aoudads and feral hogs would primarily occur during the hot summer months, when few visitors use the park’s backcountry. Aerial control would likely occur only several days per year, and a total of 20 days per year would be the maximum allowable helicopter use for all aspects of exotic aoudad and feral hog management. Ground-based control would occur during many times throughout the year, but would avoid the busier visitor use periods and locations.
The Plan and Environmental Assessment are being prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The plan and associated documents are available for review and download at the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment web site, http://parkplanning.nps.gov/bibe. The NPS prefers comments be submitted in writing on the same site. However, comments may be submitted by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail to: Superintendent, PO Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, or in writing at public meetings.
Meetings for members of the public and stakeholders to learn more about the plan and environmental assessment, ask questions, and make written suggestions and comments regarding the plan will be held at the Brewster County Multi-Purpose Facility in Study Butte on February 13, and at the Sul Ross State University Morgan Conference Center in Alpine on February 14. Both meetings will begin at 6 pm and last one hour.
The public, organizations, and others are invited to submit written comments throughout the 30-day period. Comments submitted during this public review period will be considered by the National Park Service prior to finalizing the Plans and Environmental Assessment.