Washington, DC.. Many of America's most famous national parks will be open for hunting by Native Americans under a new policy being prepared by the U.S. Department of Interior. Tribes are already seeking hunting privileges in a number of major parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali and others, according to a survey of more than 40 parks released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
According to the PEER survey, Native American groups are seeking to hunt bighorn sheep in Grand Canyon, caribou at Denali, bison at Yellowstone, mountain goats at North Cascades, elk at Olympic and other national parks as well as golden eagles and red-tailed hawks from a number of national monuments in the Southwest. More than a third (16 out of 42) national parks surveyed by PEER reported requests from affiliated tribes to hunt, trap or otherwise collect animals from the park. Several of the larger parks report increasingly insistent demands from multiple tribal groups for broad hunting rights.
Historically, parks have rejected attempts by tribes to assert hunting rights. In 1999, after the Wupatki National Monument refused a request from the Hopi tribe to take golden eaglets for ceremonial sacrifice, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt voided the park's refusal and announced his intention to develop a new policy to accommodate Native American "take" of non-endangered species.
Interior's emerging policy would dramatically transform the character of national parks, long regarded as wildlife sanctuaries since Congress first banned the taking of animals from Yellowstone in 1894. Several Park Service officials privately express concerns about the effects of opening parks to "tribal taking." The PEER survey is the first attempt to assess the impacts of Secretary Babbitt's plan.
"Secretary Babbitt is pressuring his agency lawyers to produce an opinion contradicting the Park Service's long-standing position that killing or capturing wildlife in the parks violates the 1916 Organic Act," stated Frank Buono, a PEER Board Director and former assistant superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve. "If Babbitt succeeds, our national parks will lose their special status as inviolate sanctuaries."