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Reader Participation Survey: Should Hunters Be Used to Manage National Park Wildlife?


Should the National Park Service rely on hunters to manage populations of elk, such as these seen in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in December 2008? NPS photo by Nathan King.

It's fall. There's a crispness in the air, trees are painting the landscape with their colorful leaves, elk are in the rut. And in some national parks, hunters are being dispatched to tamp down those elk populations. Is that the right way to approach wildlife management in the National Park System?

This Saturday there's an elk hunt scheduled to begin in Grand Teton National Park. Just last week it was announced that hunters would be allowed to stalk elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Debate over the use of hunters to manage elk populations at Rocky Mountain National Park has long raged.

With the outright removal of natural predators from the American landscape of the Lower 48 states, and with many parks simply too small to harbor predators, few parks can rely on wolves to provide population control as they do to a certain extent in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. And birth control also is a questionable approach in many people's minds, though some parks are experimenting with it.

But do you think opening national parks, which have become refuges for wildlife and which draw visitors who relish in hearing the sound of a bugling elk at this time or year or spotting a wolf loping across a hill side, to hunters is the right way to go?


I am opposed to hunting in our park systems, national, state or county. I think that parks are a place to go and enjoy nature and for living things to prosper, not to be a killing zone for humans to kill innocent wildlife. Our parks say we cannot pick flowers or take rocks, yet they see no problem with taking lives?? Just knowing that these killings are going on in the parks make my visits less enjoyable and I did not vote for my local parks levy in Nov. because of this.

I live in the suburbs, but on the cusp of wilderness. Cougars and coyotes venture down very close to "civilization" to snack on livestock--steak in a cage. Occasionally I'll read about a pet killed. Fatal attacks on humans from wild animals are exceedingly rare in the lower 48. It's safe and sensible to continue reintroducing native predators to the National Parks. However, until that happens with greater effect, hunting is the only real alternative I see to prevent animals dying en masse of disease or starvation.

Ken Grubb
Puyallup, WA

RMNP Lover,

The fences were a surprise to me as well. I live ~ 45 minutes from RMNP and spend a LOT of time there. The fences were placed around some aspen habitat in Moraine Park and also near Beaver Meadows (Others?), areas of winter concentration for the elk. If you noticed, the aspen in these areas get pounded by elk in the winter, as they eat the outer layer of bark, hence the tree appear to have black trunks. For the size and location of the park, there are actually very few large aspen stands. We really need a decent fire to open up areas.

Also, the cost of these fences has to be incredibly high. Some of the best fencing I have ever seen!

The meat from the elk taken in RMNP went to homeless shelters and those less fortunate. The hunters are not allowed to take any with them, at least that is what was stated by Wildlife officials this weekned at Elk Fest in Estes.

I have been traveling to RMNP for a number of years in September for a couple reasons, one being the elk and another being the aspen. Much to my dismay this September we saw a new addition to the park – FENCES. Yes fences. Can you imagine how labor intensive and the financial impact these fences are creating? The reason I would assume is an attempt to protect habitat from elk. I have noticed a troubling decline in the park over the last couple of years. Between the beetles devouring the pine trees and the increasing elk population over grazing something needs to be done soon. I am a hunter and I would pay to be entered in to some type of lottery generating much need revenue. A well supervised hunt in January or February would be a win win for everybody. BUT, if that is not a possibility then I believe sharpshooters should be utilized. It seems pretty simple to me – generate money to reduce the herd and improve the park or spend money to reduce the herd and improve the park.

I am in favor of well managed hunts to help control population. Also the use of the meat from those animals, if not to feed the hunter's families , then to be given to those who are in need of food. There will always be those who will be poor sportsmen but with proper management , it could be kept to a minimum. I have seen the result of animals who were not controlled and overpopulated their own environment. Starvation and illness is a horrible end. Well managed hunts are an excellent solution to the potential problem of overpopulation and a great way to help supply needed food to those who are in need.

If it was my call I would allow the hunting. It could be regulated & limited to chosen areas. They could consult with someone like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or any state with a successful elk management program to figure out a good game plan. Also I'm sure the NPS could always use the added revenue, that could help the Park in multiple ways. I'm sure anyone could find draw backs, but I believe with a little research any rational person could see the benefits to the elk, park and the taxpayers would be positive. I am against paying of anyone to sharp shoot animals for culling of the herd. -MIKE


Your comment, "One of the few downsides to allowing hunting is that hunters take strong, healthy animals, where natural predators take the weak, sick, and old." is not true.
1) For Colorado elk hunter harvest in 2008; 21,649 Bull elk, 23,622 Cow/Calf, so MORE cow/calves than bulls. Also, with over 223,000 hunters, that is only a 20% success rate.
2) Predators are opportunistic and will take any animal, including fully mature bulls. Scientific studies show that cows/calves are the primary targets of wolves, which one could argue are weaker than bulls. The weak, sick and old makes for a good story, but is not consistent with the way things happen in the wild.

I agree with you on the sound issue, hence my belief that any hunts happen mid-week in the winter, althoguh I am more for rifle usage on these hunts. I personally hunt with bow-n-arrow for elk, as I tend to hunt with my kids and feel a lot safer for us all during those seasons.

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