FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The National Park Service is opening a rare opportunity for skilled shooters to help reduce the number of bison roaming the far reaches of northern Arizona.
Come Monday, select volunteers will have 48 hours to apply to kill the animals at Grand Canyon National Park this fall. Thousands across the country are expected to apply, but only 12 will be chosen via lottery and notified in mid-May.
“It’s a unique experience and you can walk a long ways before you see one, then you gotta get a shot,” said Dave Arnold, a Sun City resident and hunter who harvested a bison in 2002 in South Dakota. “That’s where the fun ends.”
Much of the work will be done on foot at elevations of 8,000 feet or higher along the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Volunteers, who will have to prove firearms proficiency, can’t use motorized transportation or stock animals to retrieve their kill, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, though they can have a support crew.
Park officials say bison have been trampling archaeological resources, creating deep ruts and wallows in meadows, and spoiling ponds. They can be hunted on the adjacent national forest, which has pushed them to make their homes almost exclusively within the Grand Canyon.
“They are very skilled climbers,” park spokeswoman Kaitlyn Thomas said. “They can get down in places humans can’t.”
A 2017 plan by the Park Service also calls for corralling near the highway that leads to the North Rim.
Hunting usually is prohibited in national parks, but the agency has the authority to kill animals that harm resources. Other national parks have similar programs, such as mountain goat reduction at Olympic and Grand Teton National Parks and elk reduction in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Some 300-500 bison roam the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The park wants to cut that to 200. It has already made progress with corralling and relocating.
Grand Canyon Superintendent Ed Keable revived talks about the lethal option after they had stalled. An agreement reached last year between the park and Arizona Game and Fish allows volunteers to keep up to one full bison. The work will happen in September and October.
Native Americans will have a separate opportunity to volunteer, but those agreements aren’t finalized, Thomas said.
“None of the things that a person has to think about when they’re getting drawn for a regular bison hunt ... apply,” said Larry Phoenix, a regional supervisor for the state wildlife department.
That includes the usual fee for a bison tag, which can run up to $5,400 for non-Arizona residents, or shooting against the one-bison lifetime limit.
Environmental groups have said lethal removal appeases the state but is less efficient than other methods. They also contend the sound of gunshots will affect other un-targeted wildlife.
“It’s not the appropriate way to go about this in our eyes,” said Alicyn Gitlin of the Sierra Club.
Volunteer shooters must bring their own equipment and use non-lead ammunition to avoid the risk of poisoning the endangered California condor that scavenges on gut piles. The Park Service will provide cold storage for the work week.