Hunting In The Parks – Part Three

In our last segment we approached our main topic in an historical context. In this part of the series I’d like to get more specific in identifying some of the key issues directly related to our question.

Should hunting be allowed in national parks?

We’ll start by taking one quick peek back to the time when our first national park, Yellowstone, was created. The following excerpts are from the book entitled, *YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK: It’s Exploration and Establishment*. (See the web link in Part Two). These excerpts directly address the question of intent regarding hunting in the park when it was established.

_The Yellowstone bill was again brought up for consideration by the Senate on January 30 — in its regular order. This crucial session is recorded in The Congressional Globe (p.697) under the heading “Yellowstone Park” a term not used previously in debate. Continuing from the record:_

_Mr. ANTHONY. I observe that the destruction of game and fish for gain or profit is forbidden. I move to strike out the words “for gain or profit,” so that there shall be no destruction of game there for any purpose. We do not want sportsmen going over there with their guns._

_Mr. POMEROY. The only object was to prevent the wanton destruction of the fish and game; but we thought parties who encamped there and caught fish for their own use ought not to be restrained from doing so. The bill will allow parties there to shoot game and catch fish for their own subsistence. The provision of the bill is designed to stop the wanton destruction of game or fish for merchandise._

_Mr. ANTHONY. I do not know but that that covers it. What I mean is that this park should not be used for sporting. If people are encamped there, and desire to catch fish and kill game for their own subsistence while they remain there, there can be no objection to that; but I do not think it ought to be used as a preserve for sporting._

_Mr. POMEROY. I agree with the Senator, but I think the bill as drawn protects the game and fish as well as can be done._

_Mr. ANTHONY. Very well; I am satisfied._

Mr. Anthony withdrew his proposed amendment with the understanding that the Secretary of the Interior would be responsible for governing _”the destruction and capture of game”_.

The language that would address the issue of hunting in the first national park was pretty straightforward. Nobody had a problem with the public taking fish or critters but the park was to be protected from market gunners. Specifically, the legislation said this:

_He shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit._

Market gunning and *wanton destruction* are both a far cry from the currently advertised intent of *no hunting*. In fact, Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which governs the National Park Service, doesn’t say *no hunting*, either.

36CFR2.2.b.2 excerpt:
_Hunting may be allowed in park areas where such activity is specifically authorized as a discretionary activity under Federal statutory law if the superintendent determines that such activity is consistent with public safety and enjoyment, and sound resource management principles. Such hunting shall be allowed pursuant to special regulations._

Somewhere down the line, however, an attitude developed wherein sportsmen evolved into the bad guys. The anti-hunting crowd in today’s society walks a very thin line when insisting that sportsmen have always been and should remain barred from our parks.

As numerous examples will show, the concept of killing wildlife in the parks hasn’t been nearly so taboo a practice as we have been led to believe.

The real question has very rarely been whether wildlife should be managed through killing but, rather, it is a question of *who* should actually do the killing.

Yellowstone National Park was our first national park so it will be our first example.

Another resource used in researching this series was the book entitled *Yellowstone’s Northern Range*. You can read it yourself “here”:

Public hunting was legal in Yellowstone from 1872 to 1883 but was limited by regulation to that of sport or subsistence killing by visitors. Early conservationists pushed for the prohibition of hunting in 1883 following the appearance of market hunting in the region.

It is important to understand that sportsmen were well numbered within the ranks of those in support of the hunting ban in order to protect the resource from market gunning. Market gunning is no longer a viable threat in today’s legal, recreational or social climate.

From 1886 until 1918, the U.S. Cavalry protected Yellowstone’s resources. While the National Park Service was established in 1916, it did not assume management control until 1918. In the early years of the Service, they maintained the wildlife management policies that had been established by the army. Change was soon to follow.

_From the 1920s to the 1960s, northern Yellowstone elk were trapped and shipped alive to re-stock depleted game ranges all over North America (Figure 1.7). In attempts to control or reduce the elk population (see carrying capacity, below) elk were also shot by park rangers and the meat was shipped to Indian reservations. In all, 26,400 park elk were removed from 1923 to 1968. From the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, bison and pronghorn were also reduced in numbers or otherwise manipulated on the northern range._

Rocky Mountain National Park is another example wherein the Park Service recognized that big game animals had to be controlled but, again, the Park Service discriminated against the use of sportsmen for this purpose.

A report entitled *Elk and Vegetation Management Plan/EIS* was prepared for the Park Service. Under the heading *Background*, the report said this:

_Elk were reintroduced to the area in 1913 and 1914, shortly before Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915._

_In the absence of both significant predation and hunting, the elk population in the park flourished. By the early 1930s, elk numbers had increased to the point that National Park Service (NPS) managers expressed concern about deteriorating vegetation conditions on the elk winter range. Starting in 1944, the elk population using the park was limited primarily by having rangers cull the herd (killing elk by shooting). To a lesser degree, trapping and transplanting also were used to control elk numbers._

It is important to realize that the need to reduce wildlife numbers is not just an issue from our history books. Nor does it involve only the Rocky Mountain States or just elk.

Let’s take a quick glance at other areas of the country — in present day.

On January 28 of this year the online edition of the *Rapid City Journal* published an article that started like this:

_Wind Cave National Park plans to track several dozen of the park’s elk to help understand how the growing herd is affecting park resources and private land nearby._

A South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks employee was quoted like this:

_We’ve got significant wildlife-damage issues down there, and we’re already spending horrendous amounts of money… in hopes of alleviating some of this private-land problem._

The proposed answers are straight out of the Park Service playbook.

_Once park officials know the herd’s habits better, Roddy and other wildlife managers will be better able to evaluate control options that could include predator introduction, fencing, sterilization or shooting._

Please take note that hunting is not on the list. Remember, hunting is not “natural”.

Our next stop is Pennsylvania via a news release from the Park Service dated September 17, 2004.

_In early October, the National Park Service (NPS) will continue its program of deer management at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site, park officials have announced._

_Gettysburg and Eisenhower national parks are reducing the number of deer in the parks directly by shooting. All venison will be donated to area food banks. Hunting is not permitted inside the two parks, only qualified federal employees will take part in the effort to reduce the herd._

On the opposite coast there is an issue with exotic deer. The online edition of the *San Francisco Chronicle* ran the story on February 4 of this year and it started like this:

_Exotic deer have worn out their welcome at Point Reyes National Seashore, and the National Park Service has decided it’s time to wipe them out._

Of course, this is not a new issue in this particular park, either.

_For years, rifle-toting park staffers periodically culled the herds. But that stopped about five years ago, in large part because of public discomfort with the program._

The preferred approach for this go-round at Point Reyes is also typical.

_The park service’s preferred option involves killing most of them and treating the remainder with a special vaccine that would sterilize does for up to three years. Using those methods, all the deer would be eliminated by 2017._

They anticipate taking 12 years to eliminate approximately 1,150 deer. At that rate, I cannot help but wonder how seriously they want these animals gone. A more cynical man might consider this a very expensive private hunt club paid for with taxpayer’s dollars.

The fact of the matter is that wildlife damage control *has* become a huge business for both the federal and state governments. This is a business that can, and should, be accomplished by hunters and trappers — generating revenue for taxpayers rather than generating huge costs.

The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a report in December of 2004 that addresses some of these concerns.

_According to a survey of state fish and wildlife agencies conducted by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA), 75.7 percent of the states reported they fear their public is becoming less tolerant of wildlife overpopulation issues._

A very telling comment about their study is as follows:

_Wildlife professionals stress that being able to use management techniques that include hunting and trapping helps them maintain a balance between the numbers of people and animals. State agencies report that the greatest increases in deer populations are where hunting is not allowed or access to the land is limited, such as urban and suburban communities._

Urban and suburban communities most certainly contribute to the problem but one of the issues that our state and federal agencies never seem to mention is that many of our biggest breeding grounds for wildlife — refuges, state parks and national parks — restrict access and do not allow hunting.

These wildlife reservoirs are sorely lacking in proper wildlife management and the costs are staggering. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a specific agency branch who’s mission has expanded beyond agricultural damage management to include minimizing wildlife threats to public health and safety, resolving wildlife conflicts in urban areas, protecting private and industrial property, protecting threatened and endangered species, and preserving natural resources as they pertain to wildlife overpopulation.

This branch is known as Wildlife Services. Specific information was difficult to come by regarding the activities of this agency but I was able to secure enough to paint a broad-brush picture of the dilemma we face with wildlife mismanagement on a national scale.

The Government Accounting Office released its report GAO-02-138 Wildlife Services Program with Appendix IV attached. A clarifying paragraph was contained on the first page of this appendix and it reads in part like this:

_Table 6 provides examples, by state, of the wildlife that pose challenges, the resources they damage, and emerging concerns about wildlife damage. For each state, only a few examples are given (of injurious wildlife and the damage they do); many more problems than these exist in each state._

A quick review of this abbreviated appendix showed that Wildlife Services was dealing with overpopulation issues with deer in 10 states, coyotes in 20 states, wolves in 6 states, black bears in 11 states, mountain lions in 9 states, beaver in 18 states and geese in 23 states. The list goes on, is not all-inclusive, and Wildlife Services does not work on the cheap.

The truly sad and frustrating part of this dilemma is that we have millions of able-bodied, well-equipped, highly experienced and successful sportsmen that would not only be able to address these problem areas — but would gladly pay for the opportunity to do so.

Instead, we lock them out and create entire governmental agencies that drain our wallets and fail in the mission.

Despite how often we pretend otherwise, there is no question that hands-off management does not work. Unchecked and unmanaged wildlife populations create many problems spanning the scale from human health threats to negative economic impacts to environmental degradation and more.

So, how can killing be a good and necessary option when the shooter works for the government and yet hunting is bad news and unworkable?

In Part Four we’ll examine the most common reasons given for excluding sportsmen as we continue looking for the answer to our question…

Should hunting be allowed in national parks?

Author: Daniel D. Lamoreux

As an outdoor writer and freelance photographer, Dan's publishing credits include articles and/or photographs in more than 40 state, regional and national publications and he has authored three books. His expertise on the subject matter has been developed from over 40 years experience pursuing the outdoor sports.


  1. Overpopulation of wolves in six states.

    MY MY MY!!!! Who’d have thunk it??

    And wouldn’t the parks make an incredible place to allow hunting by people who are “handicapped”?

    I just read where the biggest problem most of them face is finding a place to hunt. Hmmmmmmm?


  2. Excellent point, Ron.

    In fact, the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report compiled by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce noted that, of hunters aged 16 and over, 614,000 did not participate more because of health and disability issues.

    Additionally, 637,000 hunters did not participate more specifically because of access issues, crowding within hunting areas, restrictive bag and season regulations, and not enough game.

    All of these problems could be alleviated by opening up more opportunities to sportsmen.

    Thanks for reading. And special thanks for commenting.