Buffalo bill is back. This time it’s not the buckskin-fringed showman who rode the plains more than a century ago. This version is a piece of legislation introduced by State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.
Estes has introduced Senate Bill 174, which would cover bison — which many call buffalo — under the state’s estray laws.
Estray laws cover what to do with livestock when they roam away from their owners’ property.
The current law makes county sheriff’s offices responsible for rounding up estray livestock and keeping the animals until they can be returned to their owners, auctioned or otherwise disposed of.
Estes’ bill has added buffalo to the list and raised concerns among Texas sheriffs who know there’s a significant difference between picking up a relatively docile Hereford heifer and a 2-ton buffalo bull that doesn’t necessarily want to be rounded up.
“We have safety concerns,” said Clay County Sheriff Kenny Lemons. “There are no cowboys willing to go get them.”
Wichita County Sheriff David Duke likened the shaggy beasts to Tyrannosaurus rex.
“They go where they want to go,” he said.
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossum said cost would be a concern, too. Counties would be responsible for feeding stray buffalo and housing them in sturdy facilities. Unlike beef or dairy cattle, buffalo can jump or knock down standard fences and go through barbed wire like kitchen curtains.
An aide to Estes said the new bill was prompted by an incident in 2010 in King County where a ranch hand shot and killed 51 head of buffalo that had strayed from a neighboring ranch. The ranch hand who did the shooting was indicted on a charge of criminal mischief, and the two ranches filed lawsuits and counter lawsuits.
Duke and Lemons said neither of their counties has had a problem with roaming buffalo to their knowledge. Duke said one Wichita County resident who owned buffalo a few years ago got tired of the trouble and damage they caused and invited selected friends to come shoot them.
Both Duke and Lemons say the general problem of estray animals has grown considerably over the past couple of years because of animals seeking water during drought and owners seeking relief from high feed costs.
In addition to cattle and horses, donkeys and even llamas are known to inhabit the estray pens. Although Wichita County leaders had considered building a facility for estray animals, they instead have contracted with a private landowner.
Liz White, a spokesperson in Estes’ office, said Estes will work with county authorities to address their concerns about roaming buffalo.