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?

Comments

I think archery hunts would be ok in the national parks, after all the native americans were hunting animals with bows and arrows long before the whites arrived. Maybe instead of the letting archery hunters in during the September "rut" period, give the hunters access in October/November when the non-hunting tourists are not there. Also, it's been my experience that most archery hunters will have much more respect for the land and hunting ethics.

Unfortunately, neither rifle nor bow dictates a hunters ethics. Good training and sound moral judgements dictates a hunters ethics. Hunts in national parks are well-controlled. I know, I have participated in several in Grand Teton National Park. Regulations are in place, law-enforcement officers are omni-present, and hunts are limiting. Elk in this area have a limited area to go to due to development and are fed in the winter. Without humanely decreasing the number of elk going into the elk refuge in Jackson, many elk would starve to death.

They have already used hunting in Rocky Mountain NP, using "certified" sharpshooters, hunting at night, with subsonic loads. Although this is a reasonable approach, it is costly to the taxpayer, when they could have used members of the hunting community to generate revenue for the park and Division of Wildlife. Holding a controlled hunt on a Tues/Wed in the Jan/Feb timeframe in certain areas would have very limited visitor impact. I tent camp in the park during the winter, and more often than not, my daughter and I are the only ones in the only open campground (Moraine Park), and that is on a weekend. Seeing elk in the town of Estes, on the golf course, makes me sick to my stomach, as this is so far from a wild animal experience. No doubt herd reduction is in order.

As a hunter, I would NOT be interested in this type of hunt, as I enjoy being a lot further from civilization, but it could be a good approach for a youth-oriented hunt. However, in NO WAY should there be any hunting allowed during the fall, especially during the rut. The herds get harassed enough by visitors trying to get closer for a better photo.

I believe allowing hunting is the most cost efficient way for any land manager to manage wildlife when the natural predator-prey balance is insufficient to the task. Additionally, all federally managed lands, including NPS, belong to the citizens of this country; if our wildlife is to be hunted, we the people should be given the opportunity to participate in the hunting. Hunter ethics aside, I wouldn't mind hunting being restricted to archery simply for the noise factor. I've been out hiking and backpacking in both seasons, and definitely enjoy the peace and quiet of archery season. One of the few downsides to allowing hunting is that hunters take strong, healthy animals, where natural predators take the weak, sick, and old.

If the hunt were supervised by park service employees to make sure the hunt mimicked the science of natural predator-prey killing of the sick or injured then most people would probably support it. That's one of the reasons the NPS has hired people in the past or used it's own employees was that they would cull the herds scientifically.

Deborah,

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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.