Critics want bison on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim moved, not hunted
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – Day three and the shooters waited under pine canopy for the rain to stop. Thirty minutes later, a single branch snapped, revealing a small herd of bison in the distance.
Before a young cow was identified as the target, the huge animals vanished into a thicket on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
“No shots and no bison,” said Charles Gorecki, one of a dozen volunteers selected to participate in a much-anticipated and much-criticized deadly elimination program in the Grand Canyon.
Gorecki and the rest of his team arrived empty-handed after a week that required marksmanship tests, safety training, and walking at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) at elevations that can leave flat-landers short of breath. Three other groups performed better, shooting and dressing a total of four bison in the field.
Up to 500 bison roam the far north of Grand Canyon National Park, trampling on archaeological and other resources and wasting water, according to park officials. The pressure of hunting on the adjacent national forest has pushed most of the animals into the park.
Critics say that rather than killing the bison, the animals should be moved to other areas or donated to Native American tribes as part of an existing effort.
Lethal elimination was one of the tools outlined in a 2017 plan approved after an environmental review, but guidelines were only established more recently with this fall’s pilot program.
Over 45,000 people have applied for the 12-seat lottery to help bring down the herd and make the bison less comfortable in the park. One person backed down and another failed the marksmanship proficiency test, leaving 10 volunteers from across the United States to work to kill up to 10 bison.
“We were following the bison and trying to find disturbing bison and bison just by trying to eliminate them,” said Greg Holm, Grand Canyon wildlife biologist, who was on most of the crews. “So they had an activity this fall that I don’t think they’ve ever experienced in the park.”
As big as they are, they cleverly escaped most shooters.
“It was always a learning experience for all of us involved,” said Gorecki, a military veteran who works at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. “We got the impression that they are very calm and cunning. These animals, if they get wind of us hundreds of meters (far away) in a thick forest, you will never see them. They are not big, downy forest cows.
Each volunteer selected up to three people who were ready to help cut up the bison and wrap the meat. The groups that slaughtered a bison divided the meat and donated parts of the animals to the Navajo and Zuni tribes in Arizona and New Mexico, Holm said.
A team led by the National Park Service killed a bison during a trial in August. The meat was donated to the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Holm said.
Grand Canyon officials have yet to put a price on the program, but Holm said part of the cost is overtime pay for park employees. They will meet soon to determine if they need to start over, he said.
Various groups pushed the park service to cancel what they claimed was a hunt and suggested moving the bison to southern Colorado instead. Hunting is prohibited in national parks, but the agency has the power to kill animals that harm resources using park staff or volunteers.
Olympic National Park in Washington state turned to volunteers to reduce the number of mountain goats, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota have appealed to volunteers to help with the elk.
The bison were introduced to northern Arizona in the early 1900s as part of a crossbreeding experiment. The state manages animals that can be hunted nearby in the Kaibab National Forest.
The main tool in reducing the population of the Grand Canyon was to lock them up near the entrance to the North Rim and ship them to Native American tribes through the Intertribal Buffalo Council. The park has moved 124 in the past three years – enough to start seeing the reproduction rate slow, Holm said. The target population is around 200 people.
“Ideally, the more females we can ship, the better,” he said. “But we also dance around not wanting to move a group of women because they have the knowledge to teach the younger generation.”
The Modoc Nation of Oklahoma received 16 bison last year.
“It’s great for us, it’s great for our heritage, and they are beautiful animals,” said Charlie Cheek, assistant to tribal chief Bill Follis. “We love working with them and they are good for our tribe.
The Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska received 23 Grand Canyon Bison this year. The Cherokee Nation got 13 who carried the herd to a tribal ranch in Kenwood, Oklahoma, to over 200, Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. shelters and tools for tribes and used in ceremonies. , he said.
“These newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions and provide expanded economic opportunities for future generations of Cherokee,” he said Wednesday.