Grand Canyon National Park officials have approved a plan that allows shooters to help cull the bison herd within the park. Bison were first reintroduced in northern Arizona in the early 1900s. The program was a part of a ranching program that want to crossbreed them with cattle in the area. Over the years the bison became wild and the state of Arizona now owns them. The state now offers hunting permits for bison in areas off of the National Park land. However, the large majority of the bison herd now spends its time within the National Park. Officials believe if something is not done about the large quantity of bison in the park it may lead to further damage to vegetation and water resources.
An agreement was reached between Arizona wildlife officials and the National Park in late September. This agreement comes three years after the park suggested it as a management tool. At that time the park suggested rounding up and corralling the bison, hazing them off of park land, and using shooters to cull the herd. Over the last two years, the park has managed to gather and move less than 100 bison. Consequently, park officials have moved forward with the culling plan. The current estimated population is around 600 bison. For the numbers to reach proper mangement goals the park wants less than 200 bison in the park.
The Culling Process
Volunteer shooters will have to prove firearms proficiency and pass a federal background check. Likewise, three volunteers will work in a team with a support crew that’s overseen by a National Park Service employee. The time frame for such a cull will most likely be from between October and May. At that time the road leading to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim entrance is closed. The National Park Service will select the age and sex of the bison to be targeted. The number of bison allowed to be shot per volunteer team would depend on the number of skilled volunteers on each team. Each volunteer would be able to keep one carcass, though not necessarily the one they shot.
Volunteer shooters must have their own gear and firearms to participate. National Park employees are prohibited from volunteering. Don’t call or write asking how to volunteer, officials say. Those details are still being worked out. Park officials would like to stress a few points with potential volunteers.
- This lethal removal isn’t a hunt, the current agreement is in place for 5 years. Likewise, local tribes will have an equal opportunity to volunteer through a separate agreement.
- Much of the volunteer work will be done on foot in rough broken terrain that is at elevations of 8,000 feet or higher. Also, volunteers should pack and be ready for all types of weather while working. The work will most likely take place from late fall to early spring in the high desert.
- Volunteers will help Park Service employees move the shot bison carcass from the field. Officials will have access to non-motorized carts, sleds, and livestock to help move the carcasses back to the nearest road.
Figuring out a Management Plan
Arizona wildlife officials and the Park Service have been in disagreement for years over the bison management within the park. Wildlife officials have pushed for hunters to do the work and to be able to keep their harvests, including hides and heads. Grand Canyon National Park pushed back saying that hunting of any kind is against their regulations. Both sides refused to budge and were in a holding pattern until recently.
When the new Grand Canyon superintendent, Edward Keable, was hired early this year the talks moved forward. A former Interior Department assistant solicitor, Ed Keable knew that the management plan had been at a standstill for a while.