Bison Removal: Grand Canyon officials are looking for qualified volunteers to help protect parklands

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Bison overpopulation in Grand Canyon National Park threatens fragile ecosystems. Here’s what park officials are doing to mitigate the damage.

When you conjure up images of the Grand Canyon It isn’t usually a bison face that comes to mind. And yet the Grand Canyon National Park is currently far behind the carrying capacity of bison in the barren high desert landscape of the Kaibab Plateau.

Currently, 300-500 bison make up the park’s herd. The landscape can only accommodate around 200 animals. And with a new volunteer programThe park hopes to remove 12 animals from the country.

This is similar to a current problem of the reduction of mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park, where skilled volunteers helped remove alien mountain goats by lethal means.

However, non-lethal methods are also used to manage bison numbers. And if that sounds familiar, you’re mitigating the herd numbers in Yellowstone National Park both lethal and non-lethal methods in conjunction with tribal support is a norm for the large herd in the north.

It is important to note that these volunteer efforts are not classified as hunting. The government doesn’t issue tags for it, and it’s not your typical hunting lottery. Volunteers are officially affiliated with, recognized and trained by the National Park Service.

Hunting is illegal in national parks, but in certain cases controlling the number of wildlife is a precarious and more difficult endeavor.

Bison Overpopulation: Impact on Grand Canyon National Park and Indigenous Partners

It’s important to take a step back and see the bigger picture of what it means when a species outgrows its habitat.

In this case, the bison has been a part of the landscape for thousands of years. After the extinction, a herd of bison was relocated to Arizona in 1927.

This herd now exists as part of the national park system. But with their continued success, the large herd is now wandering into landscapes where bison historically did not exist.

This affects both flora and fauna, and the bison also damages archaeological and cultural sites in the park.

“The herds trample through archaeological sites, damaging artifacts and cultural features found on the surface and buried underground,” reads the NPS website. “This can be seen in the wallows and bison trails around and within the study areas.”

Wallows disrupt the soil and add to the invasive flora on the northern edge. Source: NPS

The decimation of native vegetation, the contamination of water sources with E. coli, the compaction of sensitive desert soils and much more put a strain on both the park and the communities it serves.

How the tribes are connected

There are currently 11 tribes traditionally and formally associated with Grand Canyon National Park. And their contribution is synonymous with managing the bison herd.

As of 2019, 88 bison have been captured and relocated into five tribes to increase their herds and support their communities. The live acquisition and relocation will continue until autumn 2021.

“Bison is an important cultural and traditional resource for many tribes, and tribal partners have requested access to bison meat, hides and animal parts for traditional purposes,” said Olsen.

“The park also organizes the fatal removal of bison with the tribes, which is scheduled to begin in 2022. These efforts to reduce the bison to a manageable herd size are supported by consultations with the public and traditionally associated tribes, as well as in the 2017 environmental review conducted by NPS, the State of Arizona and the US Forest Service. “

Tribal members are also encouraged to apply for the volunteer program.

What the volunteers will do


Become civil servants Choose 25 volunteers from an application pool. Everyone must take a series of tests to qualify and the 12 most qualified people will be selected for bison removal.

“Grand Canyon National Park will hand over bison carcasses to the Arizona Game and Fish Division at the end of each volunteer / assignment period,” said Kaitlyn Olsen of the National Park Service. “The Arizona Game and Fish Department can distribute their selections to qualified volunteers on the last day of their service.”

“Seasoned volunteers can share with support volunteers,” she continued. “The carcass distribution will not exceed one bison per volunteer team. Any parts that are not wanted by volunteers will be transferred to the tribal governments of the 11 traditionally associated tribes of the GCNP. “

Through this limited volunteer program, the animals can be both managed and fully used as food and ceremonial connection for indigenous communities.

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