Story at a glance

  • Animals rights groups urge the Department of Interior to stop the lethal removal of hundreds of bison in the Grand Canyon.
  • The National Park Service had previously worked on relocating the animals from the region.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to indicate the correct number of bison that are scheduled to be lethally removed.

Several environmental and animal rights organizations penned a letter to the Department of the Interior (DOI) ahead of a bison hunt scheduled to take place in the Grand Canyon National Park as a means to control the expanding bison population in the region.

The lethal removal program, slated to be piloted this September, is a rare instance of hunting sanctioned by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and DOI that aims to reduce the number of bison occupying the Grand Canyon’s North Rim from about 600 down to under 200. Twelve of the bison will be lethally removed and the rest will be captured live and relocated.

NPS officials say that the bison population here has seen rapid growth, which has adverse impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.

Organizations including the Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy, and Animal Wellness Foundation disagree, arguing in a letter that this region is natural bison territory, making them native and noninvasive to the region.

“Concerns about bison impacts on the land are exaggerated and more a matter of aesthetics than ecology,” the letter reads. “These are large animals who gather in herds. Like any animal of its size, they will leave footprints on the land, consume forage and water.”

Moreover, the organizations take umbrage with the manner in which the NPS decided to select removal volunteers. 

Earlier in Spring 2021, the NPS held an open application period for volunteers to apply to track and kill these bison. Just 12 were selected, and over 45,000 individuals applied by the end of the period. Advocacy groups say that this format encourages trophy hunting of the bison when alternatives like capture and relocation are available.

The NPS asserts that this is lethal removal as opposed to a hunt, which prohibits hunters to keep the animal they kill and is fundamentally not a recreational activity, but a conservation effort meant to benefit surrounding flora and fauna. 

The agency further noted that the 12 selected personnel were to be specially “skilled,” and meet select criteria

"Selected skilled volunteers will be able to take up to a single bison including head, hide and meat in exchange for removing the carcass from the field. The Game and Fish Department will provide the volunteer with the necessary permit to possess and transport the carcass from Grand Canyon National Park," said Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman Kurt Davis back in 2020. "There will be no waste of game meat, and no waste of tax dollars to contract for paid sharpshooters."

The groups also suggest the use of a sterilization vaccine to manage the population without killing the animals.

“If the Park Service ignores fertility treatment to manage herds and opts for lethal control, it will essentially obligate the agency to kill bison for years,” the groups state.

Park officials have previously worked to relocate the bison in separate instances in both 2019 and 2020. The population along the Northern Rim has seemingly exploded over the last few years, prompting the NPS to broker an agreement with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (AZGFD) to conduct lethal removal efforts about one year ago.

Even with the population control brought on by lethal management, the groups argue that surviving bison will only work to reproduce more. They also argue that the lethal management will hurt the park’s image.

“Lethal removal of these animals will unfavorably alter the public’s perception of park management, and as result, potential tourists may decide to spend their time and money elsewhere, thereby curbing revenues in gateway communities and hurting the local economy. Surviving bison would be wary, and less likely to congregate near park visitors, degrading their wildlife-watching experiences.”

The Hill reached out to the DOI for comment. 

Published on Sep 20, 2021