Wyoming’s senior senator has signed his name to legislation that would allow volunteer mountain goat hunters out on foot in the Tetons to take home trophy parts of the animals they kill.
Participants in the Grand Teton National Park cull are allowed to take meat from one animal per person but they’re instructed to leave hides, horns and skulls in the field, partly to differentiate their task from recreational hunting. The intention of the effort, now in its second year, is to eradicate nonnative mountain goats, expressly for the benefit of the Tetons’ struggling native bighorn sheep herd.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s Cape and Antler Preservation Enhancement Act — aka the CAPE Act— would remove restrictions that prevent volunteer hunters from taking home inedible portions of the goats they cull.
“The CAPE Act takes very specific measures to prevent unnecessary waste of non-native animals,” said Sarah Durdaller, a press secretary for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “The CAPE Act provides authority to the National Park Service to donate the entire animal, not just the meat, for use.”
Grand Teton National Park Chief of Staff Jeremy Barnum declined to take a position on the CAPE Act or comment on what it would do. But he did say that the Park Service doesn’t currently have the latitude to change what its volunteer hunters are allowed to keep.
“Our understanding of the current laws and regulations is that the cape and the horns must be left at the site of the kill,” Barnum said. “That’s based on case law and the Dingell Act.”
The exception, he explained, is if the participant is a member of a Native American tribe. So far, none of Grand Teton National Park’s “qualified volunteers” are tribe members.
The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which passed in 2019, opened the door for volunteers to hunt and assist in efforts to remove nonnative wildlife from National Park Service property, a class of land where recreational hunting is ordinarily not allowed. The legislation specifies that meat can be donated, but it doesn’t state that volunteers can take anything else, Barnum said.
Some trophy hunting advocacy groups have lined up to support Barrasso’s CAPE Act.
“We thank Sen. Barrasso for proposing the CAPE Act to reinforce the commitment of ethical hunters to use as much of the animal as practical,” Boone and Crockett Club CEO Tony Schoonen said in a statement.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation staffer Blake Henning said leaving animal parts behind in the field is “wasteful,” especially when volunteers would “preserve and value them as memories.”
Wild Sheep Foundation President Gray Thornton said the CAPE Act would make it legal to “fully respect” the animals taken.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department also supports loosening the rules to give the National Park Service discretion over what mountain goat body parts its volunteers can or cannot take, spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo said.
But not everyone is fond of Barrasso’s attempt at reaching in to tweak the regulations governing Grand Teton National Park’s ongoing goat cull.
“This eradication process is the elimination of a nonnative species, and not a hunt,” said Sharon Mader, the Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We would still like to see those activities and management goals undertaken by the National Park Service staff rather than hunters.”
Through the first two weeks of the 2021 goat cull, a dozen teams combined to kill 14 of the approximately 50 mountain goats that remain in the Tetons, Barnum said. The qualified volunteers — who all participated in 2020 — collectively spent 570 hours in the field, which computes out to 41 hours of hunting for each kill.
“For the two volunteer periods so far, we’ve had some good success,” Barnum said. “We’ll see how the rest of the operations go. It’s pretty labor intensive.”