By Staci-lee Sherwood
Unimaginable unfathomable unconscionable. These are the words that should come to mind when one hears that the National Park Service is planning a hunt on park soil for the very first time since the service was established in 1916. The park with this honor is the Grand Canyon, the third oldest national park in the United States. They stated this was a ‘pilot’ program which is always code for more is in the pipeline, and it is.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the site and said,
"The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."
Traveling throughout the plains and west today it’s impossible to imagine how the American Bison once roamed all this land freely. Prior to the 1800s their population was estimated to be over 30,000,000 possibly double. Alongside the bison there were wolves, deer, pronghorns, bears and cougars all living in a balanced thriving sustainable ecosystem. Native Americans depended heavily of bison for food, their hides were used for teepee’s and bones used for tools. They never killed for sport or just because a club they joined encouraged them to do so. Their culture was one of balance and stewardship.
By the 1830’s settlers traveling from the east heading west started to drive the bison off the land as they began to settle. Soon after construction of the railroad began bison slaughter exploded. Throngs of hunters from the eastern coast and Europe came in hopes of hunting the big trophy and as the hunts escalated it’s estimated that as many as 2 million might have been killed in just one year.
Their once healthy population of millions plummeted to just about 325 by 1884 with 24 living in Yellowstone. In a half century 99% of their population had been killed off by hunters. This was done exclusively for human settlement and transportation expansion. The death toll was so great conservation methods were installed and by 1910 there were about 1000 bison. All the bison living today are the offspring from those 325 that survived the slaughter of the 1800’s. The great plains of this country was forever changed by such a loss and it has never fully recovered.
For many the added bonus was the toll it took on Native Americans who were devastated by such a loss. Much of the bison were killed simply as a way to drive out the native people and off their tribal lands so developers could come in and build settlements for the newcomers.
During the Obama administration a bill was passed in 2014 called H.R.1068 - To enact title 54, United States Code, "National Park Service and Related Programs", as positive law. This paved the way for the park service to use lethal means to control wildlife they deemed destructive. Who and how exactly that is quantified is anyone’s guess. While this seems to be a reopening for the park service to kill wildlife within the park it’s unclear if they ever actually gave up that authority. The last wolves known to have been killed by park rangers in a national park, Yellowstone, occurred in 1926. Throughout the late 1920s and up until 2014 killing of wildlife inside a park was prohibited but what may or may not have gone on quietly no one will ever know.
54 U.S.C. § 100752 (2015)
§100752. Destruction of animals and plant life
The Secretary may provide for the destruction of such animals and plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any System unit.
(Pub. L. 113–287, §3, Dec. 19, 2014, 128 Stat. 3111.)
In 2017 Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced the Grand Canyon Bison Management Act which was the first step to opening the door to having outside hunters in a national park. Claims made by Gosar follow the usual diatribe about animals wrecking havoc and threatening the survivability of the land. This usually ends with talk about saving some other imperiled species used as a tool to soften the blow. At heart this was just a kiss to his donors who hail from the hunting, development and energy sectors. They found an ally in Gosar who helped push their agenda for opening public lands towards further exploitation.
His hopes for giving hunters more access to kill more animals and especially in a national park were realized in 2019 when former President Trump signed S.47 into law. Under the blanket of conservation and buried deep in the bill was one lone sentence that changed how our national parks would be managed. This is the language needed to allow outside hunters to kill inside the parks. The Grand Canyon National Park is hoping to reduce their bison herd of about 600 down to 200. Secretary Deb Haaland voted for this bill when she was in Congress.
S.47 —John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act
116th Congress (2019-2020) Public Law No: 116-9 (03/12/2019)
TITLE II--NATIONAL PARKS
Subtitle E--National Park System Management
(Sec. 2410) The NPS may use qualified volunteers to assist in wildlife management efforts in reducing the size of wildlife populations in the NPS.
Click here for the brief text of the bill https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/47
Click here for the full legislation as passed which can be found at USC 54 ‘‘§ 104909. Wildlife management in parks https://www.congress.gov/116/plaws/publ9/PLAW-116publ9.pdf
According to the National Park Service website their statement about this bill reads : The Secretary of the Interior maintains discretion to “provide for the destruction of such animals and plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any System unit (54 USC 100752).” Senate Bill 47 signed in Public Law in 2019 specifically authorizes the National Park Service to use qualified volunteers to reduce the size of a wildlife population (Public Law No.116-9).
According to the Grand Canyon National Park website they state they are ‘developing an agreement with the eleven traditionally associated tribes to conduct joint lethal removal operations of bison within the Park. We anticipate these joint removal operations will begin in the fall of 2022. Bison removed through these operations will be transferred to participating tribes for distribution to tribal members for traditional purposes. Individual tribal members from associated tribes can also participate in State of Arizona’s general removal volunteer program.’ I think it’s safe to say this is not a pilot program as told to the public but rather a permanent program.
How the public responds depends on how many know about this and care enough to ensure we still have wildlife left for future generations. If the current state of the wolf hunts and wild horse and burros roundups are any indication it does not bode well for the bison or any other species in or out of park boundaries. Yellowstone is the only place where bison have freely lived continually since prehistoric times. Let’s hope they continue to do so.
The irony of this tweetfrom Secretary Haaland about free roaming bison