Bison may be a popular attraction at national parks, but a herd at Grand Canyon National Park has simply grown too large for the park’s resources. To reduce the park’s bison population by 200, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and the National Park Service (NPS) have announced they will conduct controlled bison hunts inside Grand Canyon National Park this fall.
The problem is that since bison can be hunted on the adjacent national forest, they have quit roaming and — essentially — made their home in the Grand Canyon, according to an Associated Press report. As a result, the bison create ruts in meadows, spoil ponds and rivers, and even trample archaeological sites, NPS reports.
“Areas are really taking a hit,” Alicyn Gitlin, Grand Canyon Program Manager for the Sierra Club’s Arizona Chapter, told USA Today. “Twenty years ago, I remember going up to the North Rim and just being overwhelmed with the beauty of all these wildflowers and meadows and rare plants. When I went back … it was heartbreaking to me because everything looked like a cow pasture.”
A Growing Herd
In the early 1900s, 86 bison were introduced to northern Arizona as part of a ranching operation to crossbreed them with cattle, NPS explains.
The NPS has conducted aerial surveys and estimates there are now somewhere between 400 to 600 bison — and the herd could grow to as many as 1,200 to 1,500 within 10 years. The problem, however, is that while the herd had been migrating between the Kaibab Plateau and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, they have essentially stayed in the national park since 2009.
Put simply, a herd of that size staying in one place is destructive to the area. First, as bison activity increases, it causes soil disruption, NPS explains. Soil disruption not only allows exotic species to be introduced to the area, but it also limits the growth and diversity of native plant species.
Secondly, drinking water in Grand Canyon National Park comes from Roaring Springs, which is fed by rain and snowmelt on the North Rim. NPS research has identified increased levels of E. coli bacteria in standing water associated with bison grazing areas.
Park archeologists have also found significant threats to culturally rich areas. That’s because the herds “trample through archeological sites causing damage to artifacts and cultural features found on the surface and buried underground,” NPS explains.
Reducing The Bison Population
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and the National Park Service are already creating a pool of 25 qualified applicants to hunt the bison. Then, from that pool, 12 people will be chosen by random lottery to participate in the hunts this fall. Applicants can head here.
It should be pointed out that hunting bison is not the only way to reduce the population. The park has also held two successful live capture and relocation operations and has transferred 88 bison through the InterTribal Buffalo Council to five different tribes in four different states. Park management expects to continue yearly live capture and relocation operations until bison population reduction goals are met.