It has been two years since the Grand Canyon authorized a plan to reduce the number of bison in the national park. In those two years, the number of bison roaming around the Grand Canyon has grown.
The plan was foiled by bad weather conditions and a conflict over how to kill the bison if relocating them is not enough. There is no way to know exactly how many bison call the Grand Canyon home at this point in time, but there are at least hundreds. This number could reach over 1,500 in the next several years which could impact landscape and water resources negatively.
The national park will begin their second attempt at implementing their plan this month.
“We’re getting a little late start,” said Jan Balsom, a senior adviser at the park.
Back in 2017, the National Park Service put a plan in place that would lead the bison to the park’s north rim to allow volunteers to shoot a specific number of bison inside and outside the park. This made no significant progress.
They also fenced off watering holes on the north rim to encourage the bison to move into the forest where they can be hunted legally. They were unable to keep the bison out and once again, their plan was unsuccessful.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission recently extended Spring hunts for the next two years to encourage more bison hunting, even though only two bison were hunted earlier this year.
The bison population keeps growing and growing and the Park Service is puzzled on how to make it stop.
Balsom said the park plans to separate animals that are captured this month and give them to Native American tribes across the U.S. that request them through the Intertribal Buffalo Council. The agreement says none of the animals may be slaughtered within the first year, she said.
Park officials had hoped to give away 50 bison in 2018, but they went a mile outside of park boundaries, according to Miranda Terwilliger, bison project manager.
“We were ready to move them. It was a bummer to have to call it off,” she said.
Balsom says the goal is to reduce the number of bison in the park to 200 within the next five years.
A recording on a Grand Canyon hotline has said for more than a year that the park is still working on plans to allow skilled volunteers kill the animals legally.
According to regional Game and Fish supervisor, Scott Poppenberger the Arizona Wildlife Commission ordered the Arizona Game and Fish Department to end discussions with the Park Service back in January 2018, because it would rather have the hunters do the work and keep their prey.
“That would be a substantial game-changer in moving the ball forward,” he said.
This issue has come up in other national parks where hunting is not allowed.
In the past in Montana, legislators have proposed plans to allow bison in Yellowstone to preserve a rare and contagious bacterial infection unobtrusive. The idea faced resistance and made no progress to continue moving forward.
Due to a 2001 agreement, bison attempting to migrate in the winter outside of Yellowstone have been captured and butchered. Others are killed by licensed hunters and Native Americans who hold treaty rights to hunt the bison.
These hunts have brought strife upon Yellowstone, due to many bison being shot the second they step out of park boundaries. There is also the fact that these hunts have done nothing to reduce Yellowstone’s bison count, which consisted of roughly 4,500 bison at the last count.
The majority of bison killed in northern Arizona are hunted within a mile of the Grand Canyon. Hunters sitting in camouflage tents use salt blocks to attract the bison to the forest and use trail cameras to track their every move.
Russ Jacoby, a hunting guide, says that he too believes the number of bison needs to be decreased. He maintains that hunting needs to be part of this puzzle in order to make the bison uneasy and weary about living in the Grand Canyon park confines.
“I’d like to get to a point where we can compromise,” Jacoby said. “We should be sport hunting bison in the park.”
Click here for more information on the Grand Canyon National Park’s bison reduction project.