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Hunting Across the National Park System: Good or Bad?


Is it just that hunts of bison in Yellowstone or brown bears in Katmai draw protests and not hunts of pheasants or turkeys on Cape Cod National Seashore? Bison photo by 'GGeter' via Flickr

In the wake of the uproar over hunting brown bears in Katmai National Preserve, does anyone care that Cape Cod National Seashore officials have cleared the way for pheasant or turkey hunts to resume on the seashore? Or is it only hunts involving charismatic mega-fauna that draw ire?

Now that the Cape Cod officials have decided to allow the state of Massachusetts to stock pheasants on the seashore for as many as 17 years, to allow pheasant hunts for an indefinite period, and to allow spring turkey hunts, will the National Parks Conservation Association help distribute a video of such a hunt as it did in the case of the Katmai bear hunts?

Of course, comparing brown bear hunts with pheasant and turkey hunts is akin to pairing apples and oranges. Pheasants multiply much more quickly than bears, particularly when you have a state agency helping the birds, and so the hunts aren't expected to harm the overall health of the East Coast's pheasant populations.

Of course, wildlife officials with both Katmai and the state of Alaska point out that the Katmai Preserve's brown bear population is quite healthy and that the hunts there won't place the population in danger. But then, the focal point of the protests over the Katmai bear hunt is not hunting in and of itself nor the health of the bear population, but rather the lack of "fair chase" involved.

And yet, some might argue that bird hunts aren't that much more challenging. So will we hear outrage over Cape Cod's decision in the near future?


But we will soon hear outrage over Montana's decision to issue licenses for a hunt of bison that leave Yellowstone National Park this coming winter. Some will argue that these hunts lack fair chase (they do), and some might say they will jeopardize the health of Yellowstone's bison herds (they won't).

Like it or not, the National Park Service has an image problem when it comes to wildlife stewardship and its mission to " promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Some will say that hunting -- fair chase considered or not -- is indeed an appropriate tool to use in managing wildlife populations for today and tomorrow. Others will say wildlife that roam inside parks should be protected from hunters and managed naturally, ie, with a sound balance of prey and predators.

In the case of Cape Cod National Seashore and its bird hunts, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance welcomed the decision, saying hunting has been a Cape Cod tradition for roughly a century.

“Since the anti-hunters filed suit five years ago to stop the hunt, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and sportsmen have encouraged the Park Service to do what it must to maintain Cape Cod’s hunting heritage, which has existed there since the early 1900s,” said Bud Pidgeon, USSA president & CEO. “The Foundation applauds the decision to maintain and augment hunting opportunities. It demonstrates that the sport is not a detriment to the Seashore.”

"Not a detriment."

Should that be the measure when hunting across the national park system is considered? After all, there are enough animals in Yellowstone's elk and bison herds to allow limited hunts, so should such hunts be allowed within the park? After all, historically, hunting did occur inside Yellowstone.

And certainly the officials at Rocky Mountain National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and even Wind Cave National Park will attest to burgeoning elk herds that could withstand a measure of hunting pressure.

In fact, you could quickly come up with a list of national parks that have healthy populations of various wildlife species that could support hunting. Some hunts would involve fair chase, some would not.

So, if you were the director of the National Park Service, how would you address this sensitive topic? Should hunting be allowed across the park system, should it be permitted on a park-by-park basis, or should it be outlawed?


pairing apples and oranges

Nice job almost got three fruits in four words!

Not presenting myself as an expert in all manners hunting, but isn't there some sort of rule pertaining to shooting a bird being forbidden unless it's in flight? Does that meager advantage qualify as enough to make this more of a "fair fight" between hunter and quarry, and serve to differentiate this from the Katmai debacle?

Also, besides the stipulation against the taking of animals accorded protection under the Endangered Species Act and the obvious ramifications of permitting open season too near areas of human occupancy, many parks on the State level have permitted, or even encouraged seasons of deer, turkey, rabbit, or other hunts without so much as a blink from certain groups who like to make issues of such things. If overall health of the individual population and the surrounding ecosystem is the real issue, isn't it? What is the overriding concern in the State Park versus National Park debate that's sure to follow? If the population can withstand the onslaught, which is hopefully managed by the limitations listed on and number of permits granted, and the practice is completed in the ethical and humane manner, which were the real issues in Katmai, is there even just cause for concern, let alone intervention?

The Katmai Bear 'Kill' was unjust and certainly not, a hunt. Those men should be ashamed to call themselves hunters, but, of course, they aren't. Will the same thing happen with the birds? Probably, unless they are in flight. Hunting should be a challenge and a skill. I have a cousin that hunts pheasant with bow and arrow. Once in a while he comes home with a pheasant and sometimes not. But he isn't disappointed because it was challenging and a fair hunt.

I think any hunting should be a park-by-park decision, depending on the population of wildlife inhabited there. Each park should have their own regulations; who better to know what lives in their park, but the hunting should always be fair. If hunting were allowed across the park system, without knowledge or regard to the wildlife population, certain wildlife species could certainly be depleted.

My opinion - hunting should not be permitted in any NPS managed lands. Hunting is not compatible with other forms of park recreation. On a hike, I'd rather startle a bear than startle a hunter. The video and subsequent controversy in Katmai has to do, in part, with the fact that a camera crew was there filming those folks on a bear hunt. The bear people say the video people ruined their experience. I'd offer it was quite the other way around.

There was quite a lot of controversy a number of years ago when Olympic NP wanted to kill every last mountain goat in the park that was destroying very rare and very fragile high alpine vegetation. The goats had been introduced to the landscape, before the park era, to give hunters something to hunt. Public outcry stopped the goat hunt, and native vegetation now suffers.

So, to answer your question Kurt, if I were Director, I'd make sure there were no hunters out there killing for the sport of it, but if my land managers told me that park resources were in danger, and the only way to solve the problem would be to thin out a particular animal population, I'd hire a contractor to do it quickly and efficiently - guides with video cameras and compound bows need not apply.

Jeremy, I have to question your risk assessment skills when you say you'd prefer to startle a bear and not a hunter. ;)

Hunters (not the famous Katmai Killers! but this does include those carrying compound bows) need to be very aware of their surroundings. I have found that many times the hunters know far more about what is going on in the area with wildlife and terrain than, say, a nature enthusiast/hiker/backpacker because they make less noise, are not talking actively, move much more slowly and do that whole sitting, waiting and watching thing. For those of you non hunters, think about the difference between you hiking and sitting when watching wildlife. And, if you disagree with that, you probably don't see as much wildlife as you could.

But I agree, NPS lands should not have hunting unless it's always been there, like on some of the Preserves. NPS should, however, be able to use sharp shooters to cull deer herds when they are out of balance with carrying capacity.

1) The Cape shouldn't be stocking the park with non-native species.
2) The National Park Service should be in the business of species preservation, not destruction.
3) I don't have any problem with people hunting animals that are not endangered or not at the top of the food chain, but not in a National Park.

Good or bad? How 'bout something in between?

In parks where deer, elk, and other critters have--due to lack of predation--out grown the ecosystem's carrying capacity, traditional hunting should be allowed. By traditional I mean hunting with primitive weapons like atlatls, spears, and bows, but not of the synthetic, compound variety. This should be done by experts, Native or otherwise, and not Joe-redneck-Schmoe. We could glean valuable data about how the Ancients lived, too. Any meat from such hunts could be donated to homeless shelters and non-profits that help the needy.

Geez Frank, your comments merits at least one good solution to the wildlife population demise in the parks. That's what I like, a clean honest take down of a animal in chase. Now that's pure hunting at it's best, which includes the down trodden and the needy in the meat sharing process. How humble you are in thoughts!

Parks are a place for families. They are a place for picnics, hikes and campfires roasting marshmallows. They are a place of education and wonder. They are a place where a father (or mother) can share with their children a bear and her cubs, a deer and its fawn. While still wild and free, these animals and so many others have learned that they can trust people just enough in the parks to allow them a magical glimpse into their lives. If we allow hunting our parks will become just like most of our National Forests, where we could spend a lifetime and not see a fraction of the wonder that we can currently see in our parks in a day. What a tragic loss that would be.

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