Management of North Rim Bison
Beginning September 2021, Grand Canyon National Park will begin a pilot lethal removal program of bison on the North Rim.
Why is Grand Canyon National Park authorizing the removal of bison on the North Rim?
On September 1, 2017, the NPS issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to reduce the number of bison on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) from around 600 bison to less than 200 bison using lethal removal with skilled volunteers and non-lethal capture and live removal. This action is necessary due to the rapid growth of the bison population and the transition from the herd using state and U.S. Forest Service lands into almost exclusively residing within Grand Canyon. Impacts from grazing and trampling on water, vegetation, soils, and archaeological sites, as well as on visitor experience and wilderness character also necessitate action.
What authorities does the National Park Service have to authorize a lethal removal?
The National Park Service has authority to manage wildlife populations and habitats on lands under its jurisdiction under the NPS Organic Act and other authorities (54 USC 100101). The Secretary of the Interior maintains discretion to “provide for the destruction of such animals and plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any System unit (54 USC 100752).” Senate Bill 47 signed in Public Law in 2019 specifically authorizes the National Park Service to use qualified volunteers to reduce the size of a wildlife population (Public Law No.116-9).
What is the difference between lethal removal and a hunt?
Lethal removal is a fundamentally different activity than hunting. Key differences include: (a) During lethal removal, the animals are destroyed primarily for management purposes; in hunting the animal is destroyed for recreational purposes. (b) Lethal removal is conducted under controlled circumstances under the direction and supervision of the National Park Service; hunting is performed at the hunter’s discretion and with elements of “fair chase” present. (c) Lethal removal does not allow the person who killed the animal to keep the entire animal; hunting does. (d) Conclusion: Simply put, lethal removal serves a public purpose, while hunting serves both public and private purposes.
Were Traditionally Associated Tribes consulted during the public scoping process? Do Tribes support lethal removal?
The Park has been in ongoing consultation with tribes traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon since the earliest stages of environmental analysis. Many tribes have requested the opportunity to partner on the management of bison at Grand Canyon National Park, including conducting joint lethal removal operations of bison to reduce herd sizes. Bison are an important cultural and traditional use resource to many tribes, and tribal partners have requested access to bison meat, hides and animal parts for traditional purposes.
When and how will tribal members participate in lethal removal activities?
Grand Canyon National Park is developing an agreement with the eleven traditionally associated tribes to conduct joint lethal removal operations of bison within the Park. We anticipate these joint removal operations will begin in the fall of 2022. Bison removed through these operations will be transferred to participating tribes for distribution to tribal members for traditional purposes. Individual tribal members from associated tribes can also participate in State of Arizona’s general removal volunteer program.
Can members of tribes not traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon participate in lethal removal activities?
Members of tribes not traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon can participate in lethal removal activities through the State of Arizona’s volunteer program, or potentially through partnership with one of the eleven traditionally associated tribes. Grand Canyon National Park has also partnered with the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) to provide captured live bison to ITBC member tribes. In 2020, 57 live bison were transported to four federally-recognized tribes though this partnership.
How do I apply to be a skilled volunteer?
The application period is now CLOSED.
AZGFD received over 45,000 applications from which 12 skilled volunteers will be selected.
Volunteers must have applied through the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). AZGFD conducted a lottery May 3-4, 2021 on azbisonstewards.com. Final selection will be contingent on meeting the volunteer qualification criteria. Additional skilled volunteer FAQs can be found on this website.
Arizona Game and Fish organizes a separate hunt in the North Kaibab National Forest. Interested parties may work directly with the state to sign up.
What qualifications must a volunteer meet to participate in the lethal removal operations?
Skilled Volunteers must meet the following criteria:
Provide a pictured proof of identity (driver’s license, passport)
Be a United States citizen
Be 18 years of age or older
Provide proof of successful completion of a firearms safety course (hunter safety course or similar)
Be willing to haul bison carcasses out of wilderness on foot without motorized assistance
Utilize park-approved, non-lead ammunition and firearms (see Firearm FAQs)
Agree to a firearm safety inspection by park staff prior to fieldwork
Actively participate in all training and safety briefings and follow Team Lead instructions.
Have strong verbal communication skills.
Sign up as an unpaid NPS volunteer (NPS VIP Program) for five days and participate in the full period
Sign a volunteer applicant affidavit of criminal history and lack revocable wildlife violation histories
Be able to pass, apply for, and purchase background checks that verify the lack of criminal and wildlife violation histories.
Self-certify a high level of physical fitness.
Provide own equipment, lodging, food, rifle (rifles must be at least .30 caliber with a bottlenecked cartridge), and non-lead ammunition (non-lead bullet that is at least 165 grains and is of a non-frangible design), and field dressing supplies.
Have a firearm safety certification and pass a firearms proficiency test (3 of 5 shots in a 4 inch circle at 100 yards)
- Failure to successfully pass or agree to any of the listed requirements will eliminate an individual from further participation as a volunteer.
- Additional skilled volunteer FAQs can be found on this website.
How much meat will I be able to keep? Will I be able to keep the head or hide?
Grand Canyon National Park will transfer bison carcasses to Arizona Game and Fish Department at the end of each volunteer/ operation period. Arizona Game and Fish Department may distribute what they choose to skilled volunteers on the last day of their service. Skilled volunteers may share with Support Volunteers. Carcass distribution will not exceed one bison per volunteer team. Any parts not desired by volunteers will be transferred to the Tribal governments of GCNP’s 11 traditionally associated tribes.
What is the cost to apply?
As this is not a hunt, the only cost to selected volunteers is the $65 fee associated with requesting a background check from Arizona Department of Public Safety.
What kind of time commitment will be required of volunteers?
There will be 4 lethal removal operations during the pilot year 2021. Each period will last 5 days. Volunteers will be expected to attend training on the first day and will be expected to participate in a full week of work. Operational Periods are as follows: Sept 20-24, Sept 27-Oct1, Oct 18-22, Oct 25-29. Volunteers will not be able to select which operational period they are interested in participating in.
Have you looked at more humane options (like birth control) to control the bison population?
The purpose of corralling and lethal removal bison is to quickly reduce the population of the herd to <200 to protect park resources and values from the impacts of the rapidly growing herd. Fertility control can take a long time and requires expensive, frequently repeated applications to achieve significant population reductions. Therefore, fertility control measures alone would not quickly reduce the current bison population to <200 in the 3- to 5-year period that the other three methods in combination will (live capture and lethal removal along with legal hunting in Arizona when bison migrate out of the park).
I heard that these bison are actually cattelo or beefalo? Why are you treating them like wildlife?
The source of the bison currently residing within Grand Canyon is well known, and their history does include interbreeding with cattle over 100 years ago. While the current generation of bison still retain a small portion of cattle genes (<1%), these genes do not impact the physical features or wild behavior of these animals. The State of Arizona recognizes and designates bison within Arizona as wildlife under state law. Cattelo and beefalo are recognized as having 75% cattle genetics, a number far higher than the cattle genetics in the bison herd at Grand Canyon.
Do bison living in Grand Canyon have brucellosis?
No. None of the bison at Grand Canyon have tested positive for brucellosis.
I am opposed to the live capture and or lethal removal activities. How do I express my opposition?
During the EA public scoping process, individuals and organizations had the opportunity to provide formal comment to Grand Canyon National Park. Once the EA and FONSI were completed and signed the opportunity to provide formal comment is no longer available.
Individuals or groups who wish to express their opposition/concern may do so as part of the rights protected and guaranteed by the First Amendment. Those wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights should review the park website for information about permits.