Grand Canyon Cattalo Control Welcome but Weak
Short-Term Reduction Leaves Hybrid Herd in Park & Long-Term Solution in Limbo
Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park’s new plan to reduce its herd of cattle-hybridized bison by two thirds will lessen damage caused by the marooned animals but avoids reaching a long-term solution, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) on the plan’s Environmental Assessment. The plan would also create its own environmental damage while leaving a number of unanswered questions.
Unveiled in May and open for public comment through next week, the plan would cut the current herd of cattalos congregating on the park’s North Rim from an estimated 600 animals to fewer than 200 over the next three years. What happens after that is not known as the Environmental Assessment is limited to examining only this “short-term” approach. In its comments, PEER urges the park to –
- Commit to removing all of the cattalos which are heavily interbred with cattle, not native to the region, and escaped into the park to avoid being shot on adjoining national forest lands;
- Look at reintroducing Mexican gray wolves to help return natural balance to that ecosystem; and
- Avoid construction of fences and corrals and reliance on helicopters and motor-vehicles to haze animals or collect carcasses inside the park’s recommended wilderness areas.
“We welcome Grand Canyon taking this belated first step but it needs a follow-up,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, also questioning why it will take the park three years to remove only 400 animals. “Our principal concern is that this short-term action could morph into the park’s long-term position by failure to pursue complete removal of the cattalo.”
At the same time, the park would be paying the full bill for actions benefitting the State of Arizona, which will sell hunting licenses for any animals moved outside the park. That, in turn, raises other issues –
- The plan lacks a guarantee that cattalo will not again return to the park to escape being shot by hunters on its boundaries. That is why they first inhabited the park starting back around 2000;
- The park also plans to use “lethal culling” but that may simply drive scattered groups of the animals to hide in more inaccessible and fragile corners of the North Rim; and
- Rather than leave any carcasses for scavengers, the park would spend taxpayer dollars for helicopters and all-terrain vehicles to haul them out.
“Grand Canyon’s approach is like trying to remain only a little bit pregnant,” added Ruch, who is also urging the park to accept offers by bison ranchers to take the entire herd off the park’s hands, noting that they are exotic to the park and pointing to a letter from academic experts saying their presence is equivalent to bringing moose or musk ox into Grand Canyon. “These animals should never have been allowed in the park and the sooner they are all gone the better.”