The National Park Service is opening a rare opportunity this fall. Thousands of people across the country will apply to roam Grand Canyon National Park looking for the park’s largest and most iconic residents. But only 12 volunteers will be chosen . . . for a bison hunt.
Normally, hunting is prohibited within national parks. But the park service has authority for staff or volunteers to kill animals that harm resources.
And harm they have. Officials at the Grand Canyon say bison trample archaeological resources, create deep ruts and wallows in meadows, and spoil ponds. The giant beasts—the largest currently living North American land animals God created—can be hunted on the adjacent national forest. That has pushed them to make their homes almost exclusively within the Grand Canyon.
Between 300 and 500 bison live on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The park wants to reduce the number to 200.
Much of the hunting will be done on foot in elevations of 8,000 feet or higher at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Volunteers can’t use motorized transportation or stock animals to retrieve the bison that can reach lengths of over 11 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. They must haul the bison carcasses out on foot. Each volunteer can choose a support crew and will have to prove firearms proficiency.
The chosen shooters must bring their own equipment and use non-lead ammunition to avoid the risk of poisoning the endangered California condor that scavenges on gut piles.
“It’s a unique experience, and you can walk a long ways before you see one, then you gotta get a shot,” says Dave Arnold, a hunter who harvested a bison in 2002 in South Dakota. “That’s where the fun ends.”
“They are very skilled climbers. They can get down in places humans can’t,” Grand Canyon spokeswoman Kaitlyn Thomas says.
Other national parks have also turned to volunteer shooters to manage wildlife numbers, including mountain goats at Olympic National Park in Washington and elk at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Grand Canyon Superintendent Ed Keable revived talks over hunting after other measures like corralling failed.
The state wildlife office will select and vet 25 applicants and forward those to the park service, which will choose 12 in a random drawing.
Native American tribes will have a separate opportunity to become volunteer shooters, but those agreements aren’t finalized, Thomas says.
Unlike other bison hunts, volunteers won’t have to pay for a bison tag. Those can top $5,400 for non-Arizona residents. Shooting a bison at the Grand Canyon also won’t count against the one bison lifetime limit for hunters.
Environmental groups claim lethal removal is far less efficient than other methods for dealing with wildlife. They also contend the sound of gunshots will affect other animals that aren’t the targets.
Wildlife officials say shooting bison within the park should pressure the animals to move back to the Kaibab National Forest.
At 78, hunter Arnold says he won’t compete for one of the shooting entries. But he admits, “If I [were] 20 years younger, I would be right there in line.”
(Bison enter a corral on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Bryan Maul/National Park Service via AP)