A herd of about 600 bison in Grand Canyon National Park should be classified as “native wildlife,” according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). The department conclusion supports findings of a previous report by the National Park Service (NPS). That report was the result of a careful review of laws and policies of the AZGFD, NPS, and U.S. Forest Service.
The finding that the Grand Canyon/northern Arizona bison herd is native—in the context of the long-term continental home range of the American bison—has implications for state management options regarding the animals. Craig McMullen, supervisor for the AZGFD regional office in Flagstaff, explained:
“The department is pleased with the conclusions in the report. The bison are a valuable native component of the experience for visitors to the Kaibab Plateau, but there are too many right now. The ultimate goal is to manage this important bison population at appropriate levels for the enjoyment, appreciation, and use by the public.”
Some specific conclusions of the NPS report are as follows:
• The Grand Canyon bison population must be reduced by several hundred animals to diminish the damage their grazing causes to natural habitats and cultural/archaeological sites.
• NPS policies allow the Grand Canyon bison to be incorporated into long-term management plans.
• Public lands at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and Kaibab National Forest can be included in bison management plans of AZGFD and other agencies.
Related to the NPS and AZGFD conclusions are a pair of bipartisan bills introduced in the U.S. Congress. The bills, if passed, would direct the U.S. Department of Interior and the AZGFD Commission to develop a plan that allows Arizona residents with valid, state-issued hunting licenses to assist in managing the bison population. These bills were introduced and cosponsored by several Arizona Congressional leaders, including Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and Representative Paul Gosar.