Grand Canyon Officials Want To Evict Bison From Park

fromKJZZ

There's an estimated 350 bison living in Grand Canyon National Park. The herd has grown too big and is overgrazing park land, draining already low water resources and trampling archaeological sites.

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OK, this next story is about an eviction notice for bison. The animals live in Grand Canyon National Park, and park officials say the herd has just gotten too big. Bison are overgrazing, they're draining water resources, and they're trampling all over archaeological sites. From member station KJZZ, Laurel Morales reports.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: There's an estimated 350 bison living in Grand Canyon National Park, but that doesn't mean they're easy to find.

MARTHA HAHN: I don't know when this guy came through here, but it looks pretty recent because there's moisture this weekend - exciting.

MORALES: Here near the North Rim, Grand Canyon science director, Martha Hahn, points to a hoof print the size of my hand in fresh mud. We recently went in search of the shaggy beasts. We look at one of their favorite grazing meadows next to a fenced off area.

HAHN: You can see how thick and matted the grass is where they aren't grazing, and then you can see where it's gone and you just have bare soil - a very big difference. And so then the question is, with this bare soil, will anything come back? Most likely not.

MORALES: And that's a problem. Hahn says damaged vegetation causes a chain reaction that could eventually harm other species like the endangered California condor and the Mexican spotted owl.

Determined to find the bison, we follow their tracks through a thicket of pine trees to another open meadow.

HAHN: Right here will begin - will drop into this drainage.

MORALES: OK.

HAHN: We'll see if anybody's there.

MORALES: In the 1800s, settlers moving West killed 50 million bison, they were all but wiped out by uncontrolled hunting. Toward the end of the 19th century, Charles Buffalo Jones brought a herd by a train to northern Arizona to breed them with cattle, he called them cattalo. In 1926, the state bought the herd and allowed them to be hunted. Over the course of the 20th century, they sought refuge in a place they couldn't be shot - Grand Canyon National Park.

The park service and other agencies held a recent public meeting in Flagstaff on the bison's future. Kitty Marr, a mule wrangler on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon has watched the herd multiply over the last two decades.

KITTY MARR: I love the buffalo. I think they're beautiful, they're majestic and they're part of our culture, but they just don't belong there because they're destroying our resources. They need to do something before our park turns into a mess.

MORALES: Marr suggests relocating some and killing others - giving the meat to the nearby tribes. Many sportsmen would like special permission to hunt the animal in the park. Arizona Game and Fish wildlife program manager Carl Lutch says, bison are rare trophies worth big points in private hunting clubs.

CARL LUTCH: It's one of the harder tags to get because the numbers are low for free-ranging huntable bison herds.

MORALES: The Arizona Game and Fish charges more to hunt bison than any other animal - for Arizona residents, $1,000, if you're from out of state, $4,000. That's if you can find them. After spending an entire day on the Grand Canyon's North Rim, science director Martha Hahn and I didn't even spot one, but we saw plenty of evidence they were here.

Well, no sign of them.

HAHN: No sign.

MORALES: OK.

HAHN: Darn.

MORALES: Hahn speculates we couldn't find them because they're so skittish of people after decades of being hunted. And the animal is quicker than you might expect, running at speeds of 40 miles per hour and jumping on their squatty legs seven feet in the air.

For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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