If you've been paying attention, you know there's a hankering to open up Rocky Mountain, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wind Cave national parks to elk hunting, all in the name of population control.
I think the proponents of these proposals are missing the boat. They simply want to bring the general hunting population into the parks to shoot some of the elk. That's short-sighted. They've got a golden opportunity here, one that will not only control the ungulate populations, but bring in a few extra bucks for the parks, too.
After all, there are plenty of private ranches that charge $7,000 or more for an elk hunt. And, of course, there already are trophy elk hunts on some park lands.
So why not go whole hog, as they say? Why not conduct special hunts with permits going for $10,000 or $15,000 a piece, with the meat donated to charity, the mount going to some wall over some fireplace, and the money going to the park in question?
Sell 10 permits a year at a park and they could hire a couple more employees or fill some potholes. Sell 20 and they could restore some trails.
And don't worry about disenfranchising the general hunting population. Heck, there are plenty of places for them to hunt outside the parks and, anyway, some already think the parks are becoming elitist.
Oh, and that bison problem in Yellowstone that Montana's governor keeps complaining about? How 'bout a $20,000 permit fee to hunt buffers along the Lamar River or in the Hayden Valley?
Mary has been saying she wants to run the Park Service more like a business, and such hunts would definitely be a potentially lucrative business, no?
Of course, not everyone would be sold on such a proposal. The folks at the National Parks Conservation Association, for instance, oppose the legislation being introduced in Congress to open Rocky Mountain, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wind Cave up to elk hunts.
"We're certainly concerned about the momentum that is building (for such hunts)," Elise Liguori, the group's legislative representative, told me the other day.
The problem, as NPCA sees it, is that such hunts not only would set a "troubling precedent for wildlife management" in the parks, but also would run counter to visitor enjoyment in the parks.
True, hunters like to go after trophy animals, the elk with the largest racks, for instance. And, true, those animals usually have the best genes in the herds, the ones you'd want to be passed down through the herd, not served up for Sunday dinner. And, yeah, driving around Rocky Mountain's Horseshoe Park while a dozen or so hunters are field-dressing their kills might not be kid-friendly.
Now, don't misunderstand the NPCA. The group doesn't oppose hunting in general, and realizes something must be done to better manage the elk herds in these three parks. But it does have concerns about turning national parks into hunting grounds.
"Anything resembling a public hunt is at odds with a fundamental purpose for which national parks were established," the group says. "That said, hunting opportunities might be appropriate outside the park, especially since the ultimate long-term solution will involve those lands and elk populations that exist outside park boundaries."
But think of the financial opportunity these herds provide! And, really, the folks who live around Rocky Mountain aren't going to back the natural solution -- returning wolves to the park.
So why not auction off elk permits to the highest bidder? It'd certainly be more lucrative than what NPCA is proposing: limited culling operations employing "specially trained staff or other qualified agency personnel" that would conduct operations out of the public's eye.
C'mon, the parks have a heckuva funding problem, an overwhelming maintenance backlog, and are catching flack for hiking entrance fees. So, in the name of being "business savvy," why not bring on the permit auctions?