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July 8, 2009

Hunting Is a Wildlife Management Tool


Whenever The New York Times' editorial writers bring their urban sensibilities to outdoor matters such as hunting, the result is something we can only read with amusement, such as today's opinion on culling the overpopulated elk herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The Times does not like Senator Byron Dorgan's (D-ND) idea of a "common-sense" public hunt to reduce the herd from approximately 900 animals to 300, the number wildlife biologists say the park's ecology can sustain. The Times instead advocates bringing in sharpshooters to cull the herd, as is done in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is nearly four times the size of TRNP and has extensive wilderness areas.

The irony here is lost on The Times. In a public park named after America's greatest conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt, public hunting, which is central to wildlife management, is not considered an option for herd management.

Hunting is one of the seven pillars of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: that every citizen has the right, under law, to legally hunt on public land in the United States. (You can read the others on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Web site.) Granted, most national parks do not permit hunting, but when it's necessary to keep wildlife populations in balance, public hunting, under appropriate restrictions, should be allowed.

Sound scientific game management will tell what proportion of bulls versus cows should be taken, and appropriate hunting permits issued for the park hunt could easily make sure that these best practices would be followed to manage the herd. Apparently, The New York Times thinks that only bulls would be taken by "unprofessional" hunters, which once again reveals its lack of knowledge and experience in real-world, hunting-related matters.

Hunting is an extremely safe activity and there is no cause for anyone to think that "sharpshooters" are the only "safe" and "more efficient" way to reduce the herd.

NSSF does agree that the decision on how to cull the herd should be decided by the National Park Service and that it should be based on sound science. What concerns us, however, is that NPS does not always act on the basis of sound science.

Recently, NPS announced its intention to ban the use of traditional ammunition and fishing tackle that contains lead components without producing the necessary "sound science" to support that policy. In response to an outcry from the conservation community and an NSSF press release, NPS claimed its press release was premature and was misunderstood and that its policy was only an internal one that intends to ban the use of traditional ammunition by park personnel and hunters participating in a culling hunt on NPS land. It is clear, however, the NPS fully intends to eventually eliminate the use of traditional ammunition by all hunters on park service-managed lands.

NSSF has continued to call upon the NPS to engage sportsmen and the conservation community that includes the fireams and ammunition industry in a dialogue before announcing policy unsupported by science and to actually conduct some scientific research to determine whether wildlife population management or human health warrants such a drastic policy that will harm hunting.

Read more about the issue of hunting and the use of traditional ammunition in this background paper from NSSF.