Grand Canyon bison are starting to overrun the national park where they make their home, leading officials to consider a system of either trapping or shooting the animals to trim their numbers.
Visitors to the park are very familiar with the nearly 2,500 pound animals, which can be seen near the entrance of the North Rim. But unlike bison herds in Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon bison shy away from human contact due to the pressures of hunting.
The bison were introduced to northern Arizona at the turn of the 20th century and crossbred with cattle. The animals now live entirely within Grand Canyon National Park, and have become so rampant that they are damaging cliff dwellings, destroying pristine meadows, and polluting water sources.
There are also worries that the herd could transmit diseases to livestock.
Officials are now looking at ways to handle the Grand Canyon bison, and plan on seeking public input over the next two months.
“It’s the first step in a long process today,” Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said. “We’re just trying to get it out there and get it on everybody’s radar screens.”
These meetings will likely discuss options for controlling the herd, including shooting some of the Grand Canyon bison. Officials have already tried birth control, a method that proved ineffective.
But officials are also being sensitive to the animal’s long history in the park. Biologists believe that the Grand Canyon bison have lived in the area dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch, more than 10,000 years ago. Native American art even depicts the bison in the region.
In more modern history, a rancher tried to make a robust breed of livestock by breeding cattle with bison. Though the experiment mostly failed and the state of Arizona took ownership of the herd, the Grand Canyon bison living there today have roughly 10 percent cattle in their DNA.