Stop the Bison Hunt in Grand Canyon National Park

To make the bison look bad takes some work-intensive phrasing. If one is straining to give a bison hunt a scientific-sounding rationale, the creatures’ natural behaviors raise alarm over “the potential for increasing impacts” on park resources, “erosion potential,” “soil disturbance,” “potential concerns about changes to local hydrology,” “potential damage” to archaeological sites, and on and on.

Are any of these dreadful developments really so bad as to warrant a bison cull? No. And if the concern is controlling the bison population in the park, there are other ways to do that than killing them.

Yet in the herd-reduction assessment, relocation of the entire herd, fertility control and other nonlethal alternatives are dismissed as impractical or not considered, even though some bison in the recent past were captured and relocated anyway, in coordination with Native American tribes, leaving one to wonder: Why couldn’t all of them be moved to a place where they wouldn’t be harassed or shot at? Or why not control the herd with the contraceptive vaccine PZP, administered by marksmen directing darts at the females, which has contained bison elsewhere?

A more hysterical version of the Park Service’s trumped-up case comes from the Arizona congressman Paul Gosar, a legislative hand in all of this. Disturbed that bison were “wreaking havoc,” causing “devastation,” threatening no less than “the wonder that is the Grand Canyon,” Mr. Gosar called on the government to “empower” hunters — and they were, in a 2019 law that allows the interior secretary to use “qualified volunteers” to “reduce the size of a wildlife population” within a national park.

Hunters already are empowered under a corresponding program of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which not only authorizes killing in areas close to the park, but also offers coaching in technique. In recent years, hundreds of bison near the park have been killed by hunters. The spirit of the program can be seen in a “bison hunter packet” the state furnishes to participants. The trick, the packet explains, is to lie in wait by water holes and shoot them when they’re thirsty and make sure they don’t “retreat to safety” in Grand Canyon National Park.

This tawdry business explains why the bison have been congregating in the park for longer periods, adding to those impacts that trouble the Park Service. The creatures are smart enough to realize that leaving the park means danger. Wildlife management in this case might be trying to solve problems of its own making. And to make credible the Park Service’s own argument that this is not a “hunt” but merely a supervised “lethal removal,” the last thing it should have done is solicit applications from “skilled volunteers” who no doubt included trophy hunters.

An agency whose very logo features a bison, in keeping with its protective mission, should have found another way. The National Park Service is overseen by the Department of the Interior, and we can hope that Secretary Deb Haaland (who, as she reported on Twitter, recently delighted in the sight of free-roaming bison) will see the cold and contrived design of the plan, and call off the hunt. It represents the worst elements of Interior Department policy in the four years before she arrived.

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