Hunting In The Parks – Part Five

As promised in our last segment, this is the final article in the series on our question:

Should hunting be allowed in national parks?

The best way to summarize the series is to respond tot he most common reasons given for denying hunters access to the parks. So, let’s get after it.

*Parks were not established as hunting preserves but, rather, for the preservation of the environment.*

This reason is only partially valid on both counts. Half-truths do not tell a story.

No, parks were not established as hunting preserves but neither were our national forests. This fact does not preclude hunting on national forests nor should it preclude hunting the parks. Hunting has been considered a valid recreational pursuit on other public lands and that validity does not stop at park borders.

That leaves the second half of this argument. Yes, the parks were set aside for preservation, but for what purpose? As was detailed in Part Two of this series, the parks were initially established under the Yellowstone park Act not to lock people out but were _dedicated and set apart as a public park and pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people._

Many things fall under the category of public pleasure and hunting is no less valid a use of our public lands than is wildlife watching, fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, rock climbing, boating, tour bus riding, or souvenir shopping – all of which take place within our parks.

On the other hand, we have shown that wildlife populations in our parks are not being properly managed. That failure is taking a negative toll upon our park environments and the creatures that live in them.

By refusing to allow hunting we are, in fact, aiding and abetting the destruction of these environments we pretend to protect.

*It is against the law to hunt in national parks and that can’t be changed.*

First, all our national parks have not been created equal. Hunting is not only allowed in Grand Teton National Park but is also promoted because of the necessity to manage elk herds. Additionally, an effort is underway to tackle the miles of red tape necessary to open this park to the hunting of bison.

The process exists for changing the law in those parks where hunting has been banned and, in fact, that process is being used where park administrators have been compelled to do so.

In March of last year, the National Park Service set up a hunt to take place in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to remove mouflon sheep. The rationale was to protect resources as a whole by reducing and/or eliminating sheep populations.

While only slightly different, the concept is the same when we talk about the removal of trees. Logging is not allowed in our parks, either. Nonetheless, Yellowstone National Park went through an extensive planning, consultation and review process in order to approve the removal of trees near the West Entrance last fall. The rationale was to protect resources as a whole by reducing the threat of wildfire.

Under Chapter 4: Natural Resource Management of the National Park Service Management Policies there is a paragraph that reads, in part:

_Whenever the Service identifies a possible need for reducing the size of a park plant or animal population, the Service will use scientifically valid resource information obtained through consultation with technical experts, literature review, inventory, monitoring, or research to evaluate the identified need for population management, and to document it in the appropriate park management plan._

They use the process to remove trees and they use the process to remove animals. The difference between the “plans” and public hunting is who pulls the trigger.

The process exists for making a change and where the process is impeded, laws are passed and/or changed every day.

In reality, the law mandates that the Park Service manage the parks to best protect the resources as a whole while offering public enjoyment of those resources. Hunting is a socially accepted, scientifically sound, effective form of resource management and it can easily be said that failure to use this management tool is a violation of the Service’s mandate.

*Hunting in the parks would not be safe.*

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance commissioned a study last year that looked at the safety of youth participation in sports, including hunting.

Each sport was ranked based upon the number of injuries per 100 participants and hunting ended up as number 29 on the list. Found higher on that list than hunting was football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis and cheerleading.

That’s right, folks, cheerleaders are at greater risk of physical injury than are young hunters.

Hunting as a whole has become much safet than it ever was because of new technology, better education and intelligent regulation where it has been found necessary.

It is beyond comprehension how safety can be a greater concern in the backcountry of Yellowstone or Yosemite than it is in the 300 wildlife refuges and 3,000 small wetlands that are within the federal wildlife refuge system and are open to hunting.

Pennsylvania state game officials are even considering the expansion of hunting “within Pittsburgh’s city limits” to thin a growing deer herd.

Notice I wrote “expansion”. Hunting is currently allowed with restrictions in the city.

Safe and effective hunting programs take place “within city limits” of municipalities all across the country.

Safety is not an honest concern.

*Hunting would conflict with other park uses.*

This is a deceitful argument. The reality is that *every* park use in in conflict with another use. In fact, the lack of use creates conflict of its own.

When Yellowstone floated the concept of closing the east entrance to the park for this summer season for road construction, the business community in Cody, Wyoming went ballistic, as did their neighbors. A lack of use would have dire economic impacts on those who make their living from the tourist trade. Even no use brought about conflict.

Think about the other conflicts that arise on all public lands.

Bank fishermen have conflicts with boat fishermen, who have conflicts with non-fishing boaters. Swimmers have conflicts with them all.

Hikers have conflicts with horseback riders, who have conflicts with ATV users. Cross-country skiers have conflicts with snowmobile riders. Rock climbers have conflicts with Indians at Devil’s Tower. Helicopter tours have conflicts with a wide group of other users at Grand Canyon. Kayak users have conflicts with farmers over river flow levels in various places throughout the West.

Entire communities have conflicts with big game populations that are generated from, and protected within, park boundaries.

Certainly, there will be conflicts. The issue is not that conflicts exist but, rather, in how we minimize those conflicts in the best interests of all users, to the benefit of our wildlife and to insure the overall preservation of our resources.

*Establishing hunting programs in the parks would be too expensive to initiate and manage.*

From 1923 to 1968, Yellowstone employees removed 26,400 elk from the park without benefit of license fees or the myriad other revenues generated by sportsmen. The program was simply an expense.

Hanford Ranch National Monument in Washington State estimates it could cost up to $680 per head to trap and relocate their overpopulated elk.

Point Reyes National Seashore has a proposal on the table that could cost $8.5 million and their problem with exotic deer will not have gone away in the process.

Sharpshooters have cost government units upwards of $500 per head and immunocontraceptive programs can cost up to $3,000 per animal.

Properly manager our wildlife populations nationwide and we can save a huge portion of the $22 billion currently being lost in economic damages caused by wildlife.

Too expensive to intiate and manage? That depends upon who is doing the books.

*There is a lack of public support for hunting in the parks.*

We started this series talking about a poll that indicated public support for hunting in the parks. The scene has changed substantially since that survey. The problem of wildlife overpopulation has skyrocketed and sentiment in support of hunting programs is only getting stronger.

We need to improve our approach to wildlife management and everyone knows it.

Even the New Jersey Audubon Society is looking to open one of its own sanctuaries in the state and the Nature Conservancy in New Jersey has stated they will open 14 of their preserves to hunting in order to curb whitetail overpopulation problems.

From coast to coast, the public has come to realize that our precious wildlife populations are a gift – but they must be controlled.

Hunting, believe it or not, is once again becoming an acceptable activity in our society. Experts in the field have always recognized hunting as the most effective and economically viable wildlife management strategy. Public support exists and, with truthful education regarding the issue, will only increase.

*The wildlife found in parks is tame and hunting them wouldn’t be fair.*

First of all, there is a vast difference between an animal being tame and that same animal being habituated to human presence. An article in the *Yellowstone Journal* published in June 1994 described this distinction well.

_Unfortunately, their proximity to popular visitor use areas increases the likelihood that some animals will become habituated – that is, used to people. Habituated wildlife are misleading; they may appear to be highly tolerant of humans, but they are still wild, unpredictable and potentially dangerous._

It is true that animals within certain locations in our parks tolerate much closer human proximity than found elsewhere. However, these same animals having migrated out of those specific locations exhibit the same wariness found in all widlife. Anyone who has hunted park elk on the National Forest can attest to the fact that they do not stand around waiting to be shot.

The first hunter to take an animal may have an easier time in a newly opened hunt area but anyone following after will not have such luxury. Prey species recognize predators and react accordingly.

That aside, how “fair” is it to have our park personnel and/or contracted sharpshooters killing these same animals over bait piles at night using spotlights?

Fair is not an honest part of the equation.

*Hunting is unnatural and inhumane.*

Nothing is more natural than predatory meat eaters taking down their prey. Whether that predator be a bear, cougar, wolf or man the bottom line is the same. Failure to recognize that fact denigrates man and denies his position on the food chain and in the cycle of life.

Either we belong on this planet or we do not. You can’t have it both ways.

There are many things in the predator/prey relationship that are not pretty but the label of “inhumane” when applied to hunters simply doesn’t hold water.

We send people to prison in this country when they cause the death of their livestock through starvation or dehydration, yet those who promote animal rights have no qualms about sentencing entire populations of deer to the same fate due to the destruction of their environment through over-browsing.

We soften the blow of government killing through sharpshooters when we “donate” venison to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In the next breath we condemn the man who would kill the same animal (at his own expense) and provide that same meal to his family.

When I think of “natural” I don’t normally get visions of darting, netting and radio collaring an animal, putting it in a cage and shipping it to some other location because of overpopulation. Nor do I think about using contraceptive drugs to prevent females from having young.

There is a twisted vision in wildlife and wild lands management agencies. By their hand, or at their command, everything is in perfect order. The common man has no business in their domain.

That is precisely why they have concocted their own language. “Natural” and “inhumane” have different meanings in the real world.

*We don’t NEED to hunt everywhere and the parks should be preserved for other things.*

This single excuse is the one most often given by sportsmen to one another.

Biologists have said that hunting is a necessary tool for wildlife management and we, as sportsmen, have been telling everyone, including ourselves, for many decades that the NEED to hunt is based upon sound management principles and objectives.

When anti-hunters and animal rights activists make assaults upon our hunting heritage, we prance out the professionals and put on huge dog and pony shows in order to prove that hunting is necessary in places all across our nation.

Yet, somehow, we have convinced ourselves (maybe as an act of compromise) that our parks are different because of their political boundaries.

If, in fact, we do not NEED to hunt in parks, where some of our largest big game herds live, then how, exactly, can we justify the NEED to hunt anywhere?

The question is not one of science. This question is one of philosophical beliefs and social policy. Biologically, ecologically, economically, socially and politically the answers are clear.

Should hunting be allowed in national parks?

Absolutely.

But there is another important question.

When will we stop playing word games and do what we must to preserve our Crown Jewels?

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.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent series Dan.

    Questions and answers I had never considered that will be added to my arsenal for debating this question.

    On point the entire series!!!

    Thank you!

    Ron

  2. My pleasure, Sir!
    You’re welcome.