The fate of a small herd of longhorn cattle living on the sprawling Big Bend Ranch State Park in West Texas is still unknown.
Environmentalists and state officials see the longhorns as destructive and a mark on an otherwise valuable park, but some ranchers and others see the animal as a symbol of Texas heritage.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's most recent management plan calls for removing the herd. By last fall, all but the wiliest had been rounded up and sold, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, a Waco Republican, says he counted just 33 longhorns during a recent trip, down from an original herd of more than 200. Anderson had introduced a bill to protect the herd, but he was only able to get 50 legislators to sign a letter in favor of the longhorns that was sent to Gov. Rick Perry, who took no action.
"The issue is these animals don't belong to the management of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. They belong to the folks of Texas," Anderson said.
For now, agency officials have agreed to not round up the remaining wild cattle at the park, which was created with land bought in 1988 and has grown to more than 300,000 acres.
The commission voted unanimously in 1995 to remove the cattle, but the animals got a temporary legislative reprieve. "City Slicker" roundups of the cattle, which were held twice a year, proved very popular with tourists who paid more than $900.
"They were wildly successful. People loved it," stables owner Linda Walker, who provided horses and wranglers, said of the roundups, which ended two years ago.
Park Superintendent Barrett Durst said the tourist roundups were not without risk. Durst recalled an October 2011 incident in which one of the longhorns got so wild it tried to gore one of his staff member's horses.
"In the 3 1/2 years I've been out here, I've not had one individual walk through the office or call on the telephone and ask, `Where are the longhorns? Where can we see them?' It just doesn't happen," he said.
Durst said the longhorns can also be destructive, having "devastated" one archaeological site and defecated in springs that backpackers often use as a water source.
However, to Carlos Nieto, a citizen of nearby Presidio, the elimination of the herd is a slap in the face to local sentiments and the region's ranching history. Nieto is upset that "locals have little to no input on what happens at the state park, and it's in our backyard."
"We're growing up digital and on concrete, and losing that (herd) is like losing a piece of our history you can only see in books. Now they are building bike trails and that kind of crap, imposing city values on the country," he said.