A recent decision by the National Park Service to turn over wildlife management authority for non-National Park Service lands within Grand Teton National Park is mystifying. Since the establishment of Grand Teton National Park 66 years ago, the Park Service has been the lead authority in managing all resources within its boundary. However that long-standing practice was turned on its head last week when the NPS Intermountain Office determined that the regulations giving the Park Service lead management authority for wildlife within its boundaries did not apply to Grand Teton National Park.
The National Parks Conservation Association believes the Park Pervice’s findings — presented in a letter from the NPS Intermountain region to the state — are just plain wrong. We disagree with the analysis and conclusions reached and urge the Park Service to withdraw its plans to hand over wildlife management authority to the state and urge the Park Service to engage in a public process to sort out this matter.
To our knowledge, no other national park in the country has ceded authority for lands that are within national park boundaries. This decision has already created unwelcome but predictable action by the state of Wyoming, which declared its intention to initiate a public hunt on these lands shortly after release of the memo. This decision jeopardizes the safety and enjoyment of park visitors and flies in the face of the mission of the National Park Service. Grand Teton National Park has been and should continue to be the responsible party in all areas of park management, even if those actions occur on inholdings within the park.
National parks were designated by Congress as a gift to the American people to provide protection for America’s most pristine, special and sacred places. They were intended to be a sanctuary for wildlife and have a different mandate than the multiple-use provisions seen on other public lands. The lofty and overriding goal for creating the National Park System was to preserve, protect and leave unimpaired park resources — including the abundant wildlife that inhabit these lands.
According to the National Park Service’s guiding Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR 2.2), hunting is prohibited on all lands within park boundaries, regardless of ownership. This regulation applies to all national parks, including Grand Teton. As we understand it, this decision undermines this longstanding regulation. It appears short-sighted and not in the best interests of the park, its wildlife or the visiting public. These lands have important value to wildlife. The “Path of the Pronghorn” — the nation’s first protected public lands wildlife migration corridor — traverses the state-held inholdings.
The unexpected Park Service decision stemmed from an incident last year when a wolf was shot on a private inholding within Grand Teton National Park. The shooting spurred a dual investigation by the park and the state agency, with both claiming the authority to lead the investigation. In the end, neither agency prosecuted, and the ensuing discussion led to this unfortunate interpretation.
During this year’s elk cull, park rangers and Wyoming Game and Fish wardens doled out many citations for hunting violations. The Park Service’s recent decision only stands to exacerbate these problems by allowing the state to move forward with an unprecedented hunt on park inholdings, creating an untenable management situation. Before the ink was even dry, the state immediately announced its intention to open up over 100 parcels of land in Grand Teton to a public hunt, including 1,260 acres of state-owned land.
This is not an issue about whether or not to support or oppose hunting. It’s an issue over who makes the call in wildlife management within our national parks, and the timing of this determination could not have been worse.
The decision to cede the National Park Service’s authority to manage wildlife on private lands within Grand Teton National Park’s boundaries to the state is not in the interest of park visitors’ enjoyment and safety and will ultimately jeopardize the park’s integrity and its ability to manage wildlife for future generations to enjoy.