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Hunting Across the National Park System: Good or Bad?


Is it just that hunts of bison in Yellowstone or brown bears in Katmai draw protests and not hunts of pheasants or turkeys on Cape Cod National Seashore? Bison photo by 'GGeter' via Flickr

In the wake of the uproar over hunting brown bears in Katmai National Preserve, does anyone care that Cape Cod National Seashore officials have cleared the way for pheasant or turkey hunts to resume on the seashore? Or is it only hunts involving charismatic mega-fauna that draw ire?

Now that the Cape Cod officials have decided to allow the state of Massachusetts to stock pheasants on the seashore for as many as 17 years, to allow pheasant hunts for an indefinite period, and to allow spring turkey hunts, will the National Parks Conservation Association help distribute a video of such a hunt as it did in the case of the Katmai bear hunts?

Of course, comparing brown bear hunts with pheasant and turkey hunts is akin to pairing apples and oranges. Pheasants multiply much more quickly than bears, particularly when you have a state agency helping the birds, and so the hunts aren't expected to harm the overall health of the East Coast's pheasant populations.

Of course, wildlife officials with both Katmai and the state of Alaska point out that the Katmai Preserve's brown bear population is quite healthy and that the hunts there won't place the population in danger. But then, the focal point of the protests over the Katmai bear hunt is not hunting in and of itself nor the health of the bear population, but rather the lack of "fair chase" involved.

And yet, some might argue that bird hunts aren't that much more challenging. So will we hear outrage over Cape Cod's decision in the near future?


But we will soon hear outrage over Montana's decision to issue licenses for a hunt of bison that leave Yellowstone National Park this coming winter. Some will argue that these hunts lack fair chase (they do), and some might say they will jeopardize the health of Yellowstone's bison herds (they won't).

Like it or not, the National Park Service has an image problem when it comes to wildlife stewardship and its mission to " promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Some will say that hunting -- fair chase considered or not -- is indeed an appropriate tool to use in managing wildlife populations for today and tomorrow. Others will say wildlife that roam inside parks should be protected from hunters and managed naturally, ie, with a sound balance of prey and predators.

In the case of Cape Cod National Seashore and its bird hunts, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance welcomed the decision, saying hunting has been a Cape Cod tradition for roughly a century.

“Since the anti-hunters filed suit five years ago to stop the hunt, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and sportsmen have encouraged the Park Service to do what it must to maintain Cape Cod’s hunting heritage, which has existed there since the early 1900s,” said Bud Pidgeon, USSA president & CEO. “The Foundation applauds the decision to maintain and augment hunting opportunities. It demonstrates that the sport is not a detriment to the Seashore.”

"Not a detriment."

Should that be the measure when hunting across the national park system is considered? After all, there are enough animals in Yellowstone's elk and bison herds to allow limited hunts, so should such hunts be allowed within the park? After all, historically, hunting did occur inside Yellowstone.

And certainly the officials at Rocky Mountain National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and even Wind Cave National Park will attest to burgeoning elk herds that could withstand a measure of hunting pressure.

In fact, you could quickly come up with a list of national parks that have healthy populations of various wildlife species that could support hunting. Some hunts would involve fair chase, some would not.

So, if you were the director of the National Park Service, how would you address this sensitive topic? Should hunting be allowed across the park system, should it be permitted on a park-by-park basis, or should it be outlawed?


I Agree with "Dr. Thomas Kovach". It's so absurd!

Regarding Isle Royale's moose population, as recently as 2007 it was pegged at 385, the lowest ever recorded, according to news reports. While in 2008 it had rebounded to 650, that was still far, far below the record 2,445 counted in 1995.

I think many of these comments are ABSURD! In my home state of MI we have embraced hunting to its full potential and EVERY single one of our huntable species is growing considerably each year. In the few places we aren't allowed to hunt the game population has been over flowing. For example; moose on Isle Royale Nat. Park were literally trying to swim or walk on the ice to the main land due to over crowding. Even with the re-introduction of the cervidae's natural predator in MI: the gray wolf, the moose and deer population on the island is sky-rocketing! We can't control them! So in the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Nat. Lakeshore (where a similar situation took place) they allowed hunting and now the white-tailed deer population is (from year to year) either stable, up or less than 1% down.
Also in response to the proff. hunters multiple groups from diiferent states were brought in to specified mang. areas and all either had to be rescued by MI Search and Rescue Teams or injured themselves. To be frank; they just weren't qualified to survive in the MI wilderness. Its ALOT rougher here than commonly percieved. There is just no proff. hunters that would be successful in accomplishing ANYTHING here. I have hunted probably in almost any region in MI and it varys but the only hunters that are succesfull in MI are MI hunters. Its just that a state's own natives are adapted to the land and would be quite succesful in properly managing any state's wildlife.

Your view is logical and currently in practice around the US. Look into Hunters for the Hungry. Unfortunately, your method shows some naivety (Atlatls, spears, basic bows). All of these weapons were of the best technology those cultures could develop in order to ensure the quickest kill possible, thus the least fear and suffering by the animal and minimal chase. But they were designed to rip and cut as the animal continued to run. Traditionally, "one shot, one kill" was not accurate and many animals required significant "chase" and multiple hits or piercings before falling, filled with fear, adreniline and waiting for the final blow or slice to end their suffering. (Think of the Alaskan Bear "hunting" IDIOTS). A quality hunter studies the animals patterns and environment. Then using stalking and stealth, moves as close as possible to the animal to ensure a rapid and human "one shot, one kill". Ideally, the animal is blissfully unaware right up to the end.

Quality hunters do not support "canned hunts" or anything less than fair chase, but every sect of society has its morons. Just like some animal rights activists who enjoy their chicken salads, some stupid people kill animals while carrying a hunting license. The main stream of hunters are also strong supporter of fair chase, quick and human kills, preserving out natural resources and the environment. Outdoors amongst nature is our preferred place to spend time. If we truly embrace the idea of being stewards of the flora and fauna then we must also take the responsibility. This requires logical and balanced management, laissez-faire and fringe activism are equally detrimental to the environment and all our flora and fauna.

When an attack happens in a National Park it is guaranteed to make national headlines. Yet we only read about one or two every year. But as our example of Googling "deer attacks" illustrated, far more attacks happen outside of parks. Many of these attacks, as well as bear, elk, moose etc. happen to hunters. Your point about acreage is very valid, but my whole point is that whether or not a population is hunted has nothing to do with the frequency of attacks on human beings. Now, clearly, habituated animals are far more dangerous (inside or outside a park), this has been demonstrated over and over. The deer that you speak of in campgrounds in Zion (or CR) are obviously habituated. I don't know if anyone has been injured or not, but, if not, it is only a matter of time. The National Park Service (or Forest Service if occurring in Forest Service campgrounds...which a friend told me the other day he has seen as well....which shows that even this isn't exclusive to parks) have a responsibility to do something about it. They need to do averse training and they need to HEAVILY FINE individuals who are contributing to the problem by feeding them. They don't need to shoot these deer, though shooting AT them with cracker rounds etc. might be beneficial. BTW, compare these deer to the elk wondering around the Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone, which will move away as you approach them. I will repeat one last time: There is a difference between animals that are used to seeing people and those who are habituated. I spend thousands of hours in the Yellowstone back country and constantly see animals that I guarantee you are not habituated. (Most even run away as I approach, which should make you happy). Animals in campgrounds (both inside and outside National Parks) sometimes are; because people feed them, or leave food out for them.
Regarding your point about man being part of the natural "processes", I have not addressed it because I agree with it. For 30,000 years or more man WAS a part of the natural process. When man started building cities, machines and modern weapons, and when he started playing God by setting arbitrary wildlife "population goals", and started deciding what species have a right to exist at all; then he removed himself from the "natural processes". In nature man is about on equal footing with the grizzly bear. Throughout those thousands of years, he spent as much time being hunted by the bear as hunting it. Strip naked and take a walk in the woods with only what God gave you, and see where man fits in the "natural processes". One of the great fallacies is that man is at the top of the food chain. He has artificially made himself the top predator, but he will never be at the top of the food chain (anyone who doesn't believe this should look up what a food chain is).
It may be far from fact I know that it is....but I submit that Yellowstone National Park is far closer to a "natural" ecosystem (intact and similar to what the area was like before the arrival of white men) than most anywhere else in the lower 48. And as such, as I said, is a tremendous educational tool. For many people, it is the only opportunity they will ever have to see many of these animals in the WILD. And yes! I'll say it! Dang gone it! We uneducated, naive, uninformed wimps think some of those critters are down right cute!!! (OK! Are ya happy....I said it!) What I don't think is that they are not still WILD, because folks who believe that ARE the ones who end up getting hurt.
Thanks for the discussion.


What evidence do you have that this is an accurate statement? Has some kind of systematic comparative study been done on animal attacks in and out of parks?

Should you be able to find a statistical study that demonstrates that the numbers of attacks are higher outside of parks, I'd hypothesize it could be related to the fact that NPS lands cover a very small minority of the total acreage of land in the United States; Forest Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife, and private lands are far more vast, so I would expect to see a higher incident of attacks on those lands.

And you have failed to address the issue that I've pointed out above:

For 15000 to 30000 years in North America, humans WERE part of the natural predation that controlled animal populations. Human predation, along with other predation (fire, cougars, wolves, brown bears), has been removed from the equation, and a completely different system (which I'm arguing is not better than the former system) was born in the last century.

"*ONE QUICK REQUEST: Can we stop using the phrase "the rangers?!?""
The answer to that would be: NO. While I would agree that rangers have as many different opinions as any other group of people, and I certainly have not spoken to every ranger in Yellowstone, the opinions that I wrote of above are pretty much universal among those that I have spoken to. I could give you a list of at least a dozen names, but don't feel that would be appropriate. My speaking to these individuals is as valid a "personal experience" as your reading a book. And as easily verifiable by anyone traveling to Yellowstone and speaking to them themselves (especially those on the front lines...working bear jams etc.) Indeed, I could just as easily quote a dozen books of my own, they are merely so many more opinions.
I really don't understand this: if an animal doesn't run in terror the moment that it sees a human being it is not wild thing. I think that it must just make some people feel macho or something to have animals run instantly. Have you ever heard of "flight or fight"? It is an instinct as old as creation. Every animal has it. Some, such as the elk that hang out among the buildings in Mammoth Hot Springs may have smaller personal spaces (flight or fight spaces) but I guarantee you it is still there. Other elk in Yellowstone, for example those you meet on a trail, have larger spaces and will run immediately. I don't know when you were in Yellowstone last (as I said, I spend 3-5 days a week every week of the year there), but the elk are not like cows there any more since wolves were re-introduced. From about the 1930's until the 1960's elk herds were artificially reduced by man in Yellowstone (by sharpshooters), yet they continued to act like cows, continued to hang out in riparian habitat destroying the willow and aspen and as a consequence beaver and songbird habitat. It took the return of the wolf to change their habits. Man with his rifles didn't scare them (sorry), the wolves do.
This flight or fight instinct is in every animal every where. Because a bear decides to maul a hunter rather than run from him does NOT mean that it is "domesticated". Every animal will act differently.
What no one seems able to address is what I pointed out above: why do FAR MORE ANIMAL ATTACKS HAPPEN OUTSIDE OF OUR PARKS THAN INSIDE. They are in fact relatively rare in our parks.

I'm fine with not having hunting as long as we don't pretend we're not then moving into gardening the landscape on a mass scale and that we're permanently altering the park's ecosystem into something different than what was there.

I agree with Frank's assertion, while I am sure I am going to mess up in paraphrasing, the inherent fallacy of removing humans from the ecosystem ala our beloved NPS system is definitely a human construct.

As an example, from what I remember of Alston Chase's "Playing God in Yellowstone," wildlife herds in Yellowstone were never that abundant as they are today. Add that to the fact that the the fire regime has been changed (thanks Smokey!) and you don't really have what was there as original landscape or ecosystem. Even if you don't like the book, you can't argue with the fact that humans have been part of the North American ecosystem since somewhere around the end of (at least) the Pleistocene and taking us (hunting, living, etc.) out of the equation does create some sort of construct.

NPT should revisit that book as well as some of William Cronon's stirring of the pot. Humans are part of the game. In the NPS system, the animals act like the characters from Bambi or something, no fear, nothing. Since when should an elk not be afraid of a human? At Yellowstone, so you can put your tripod up and snap a photo so it doesn't charge?

While I can't say that modern hunting is the solution or the same as someone hurling an atlatl, to say that we need to preserve the BS false nature worship of Mangelsen's photos (they are beautiful, however) or the expensive classes in the Yellowstone Institute affordable to only the wealthy is absurd. The herds of begging muleys walking without fear through the Fruita CG at Capitol Reef are lame, same with anything similar in the NPS system.

*ONE QUICK REQUEST: Can we stop using the phrase "the rangers?!?" It's too vague and always invokes some sort of perceived authority, I'm calling BS. Rangers are a finnicky and odd bunch of people and they have as many opinions as shows up on this commenting board. You can't use that phrase to imply that they all stand behind whatever it is you're typing. Personal experience is preferred, anecdotally relaying information from friends or whatever isn't as reliable! ;) And besides, they are public servants anyway and should be paying attention to our opinions. WE pay their salaries, afterall...

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