The American Buffalo Is Not Native To Arizona

North Rim BuffaloThe American Bison or buffalo are not native to Arizona. In 1906, Charles Jesse Jones, aka “Buffalo Jones”, drove a small herd of buffalo from Utah to northern Arizona to what is now known as Bright Angel Point which is within the Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim, in an attempt to crossbreed them with cattle. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906. The game preserve which includes 612,736 acres of the Kaibab National Forest, is “set aside for the protection of game animals and birds,” and is “to be recognized as a breeding place therefore.”  Congress designated the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906 and the Congressional Report (Protection of Wild Animals in the Grand Canyon Forest Preserve) described the area as “ideal for buffalo, deer and other wild game.”

What are Cattalo’s or Beefalo’s?

Buffalo JonesIn 1906, Buffalo Jones began crossbreeding Buffalo with Galloway cattle on a government ranch located along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab Plateau area of northern Arizona to produce an animal better suited to forage on its own and survive harsher winter conditions, which are commonly refered to as “cattleo’s”.  By 1908, the experiment had failed and the buffalo were allowed to roam free.  Over the years, some of the buffalo were removed and in 1926, Jimmy Owens rounded up and sold approximately 98 bison to the Arizona and Game and Fish Department which began the management of the herd.

Management Of The Grand Canyon Buffalo

Since then there have been ongoing conflicts with neighboring ranchers and in 1950, an MOU was signed between the Kaibab National Forest (KNF), the BLM, the AZGFD and several area ranchers setting aside the South Canyon and Fence Canyon allotments for the grazing of buffalo and deer as long as the Game and Fish Commission continues to graze buffalo.  The AZGFD agreed to maintain a water pipeline and route sufficient water for 200 cattle to the BLM lands north of the new Wildlife Area.  AZFGD also agreed to maintain an adequate fence on the north boundary of the buffalo allotment to keep the buffalo confined to their designed range on the KNF.  This MOU is still in effect today.

The Historical Management Process For Grand Canyon Buffalo

The Wildlife area has never been completely enclosed by fencing.  The northern fence has been maintained as required by the MOU, but gets very little pressure from bison.  Some sections of fence were built between substantial terrain features on the eastern monocline, but due to concerns with mule deer migration, effects of high seasonal water flows and lack of adequate maintenance funds, all fencing efforts were discontinued.

North Rim BuffaloFrom 1927 to 1972 bison were rounded up and corralled and shot in the corrals.  In 1972, the hunt changed to a fair chase open range hunt.  From 1972 to 1982 Department personnel helped locate buffalo and assisted citizen hunters with harvesting and processing the buffalo.  After 1982, hunters were provided information and encouraged to attend an orientation session, but hunted on their own.

In the mid-1990s, due to the Outlet fire in the Wildlife Area, buffalo started frequent intrusion into the remaining on Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP).  In the late 1990s discussions started between NPS and the AZGFD on options to reduce buffalo numbers and keep them off the GCNP. In 1997, Department Regional Supervisor Tom Britt sent a letter to Jill Leonard, KNF District Ranger, outlining some alternatives for slowing bison movement to the GCNP.  These included fencing, range improvements, new bloodlines, securing a grazing permit on the top of the plateau, modify season dates and lengths, salting and feeding. During the early to mid-2000s, the Department tried many different hunting season designs such as long seasons, short seasons, back to back seasons, breaks between seasons, large hunter numbers, small hunter numbers, etc.  Nothing seemed to work to remove even the annual buffalo recruitment.

The only remaining reasonable recourse is to have the AZFGD systematic manage to reduce the herd populations with the GCNP utilizing qualified citizens hunters a fee based program similar to what is in place now.

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Update: July 26, 2018:
In the next three to five years, the National Park Service will reduce the size of the House Rock bison herd on the Kaibab Plateau through capture and relocation, and lethal culling. The Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and other documents can be found on the NPS Planning Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website.

Operational details of herd reduction are being worked out and more information, including volunteer opportunities, will be announced at a later date through a news release.  The information will also be available on our bison hotline 928-638-7900, on the park web site or email your questions to: e-mail us.

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What Is The Current Issue with Grand Canyon Buffalo

North Rim Buffalo Road CrossingThe National Park Service, governing the Grand Canyon National Park, several years ago has come to the conclusion that the current population of buffalo then of approximately 400 animals which now has multiplied into 500-600 head has to be reduced to minimize damage to the park’s habitat, water holes and source, fences meadows and riparian areas. During the process, the NPS has had to engage on compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act NEPA’s and Environmental Impact Study EIS’ to satisfy federal governing regulations.  Meanwhile, the buffalo population continued to increase as well as the damage within the park.

Early on in the discussion the buffalo were thought to be feral livestock due to the cross breeding efforts of Buffalo Jones. The DNA results as report in the “Plumb Report” as presented by the NPS-DOI as that pure strain of the American Bison, to be considered as Wildlife and not livestock.  More on the Plumb report.

Dealing With The Problem Of Managing Buffalo

The current problem is that the AZGFD, State of AZ and constituency believe the buffalo are wildlife, not feral livestock and hence belong to the state of Arizona. Being “wildlife” should be managed by the Arizona State governing agency, the AZ Game and Fish Department. The AZGFD bought the heard in 1926 but The National Park Service doesn’t recognize the AZGFD authority to manage but, instead, wants to bring in “Volunteer Sharp Shooters” to eliminate the buffalo numbers to approximately 200 animals. The NPS was and is satisfied to leave the animals in the field to rot and, therefore, waste the consumable meat, head, horns and hide which has been practice in the past having to cull animals.

NPS claims that hunting is not allowed in National Parks, but this is not true in the case of overpopulated Elk:

A.    Grand Tetons National Park – Elk Management – hunting program (specifically called hunting by a congressional 1950 act that established the Park)
B.    Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Elk Management – Elk Reduction Program
C.    Rocky Mountain National Park – Elk Management – culling program

So the question that remains here is what’s the difference between over populated elk and buffalo, both are wildlife, which both need to be managed by the States lead agency, the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

The Indian Nation Wants To Claim Buffalo

Wild West BuffaloIn mid 2016, The NPS has partnered with the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council which is laying spiritual and or ritual claims to the buffalo herd demanding the head, horns and hides of harvested buffalo and demanding authority to how the herd is to be managed. The question remains here is by whose authority does the ITBC lay claim to AZ wildlife. Is this yet another case of a sovereign nation within a sovereign nation with its own form of failed government hopping the fence and dictating to the State of AZ how we are moaning our wildlife and federal land? Interestingly enough none of the northern AZ tribes have been found to belong to the ITBC.

The Proposed Solutions For Managing The Grand Canyon Buffalo

1.  Institute a Fee Based permits to manage this herd
Arizona sportsmen still are standing on the fact that the herd is AZ wildlife assets to be governed and managed by the AZGFD which will manage the herd numbers by issuing fee based hunt permits to qualified citizen’s hunters to cull the herd numbers and utilized the animal’s consumable meats, head, horns and hide.

2.  Authority given to the AZGFD to manage this herd
Legislation had been introduced in 2015 to clear the issue with language to have the herd numbers managed by AZGFD, which stalled in the senate and has been reintroduced again. Senator’s McCain and Flake have given lip service and introduced a bill with little or no follow up and then turned a blind eye to the promises made to AZ Sportsmen on resolving the AZ Grand Canyon Buffalo issue. The one AZ congressman that understands the issues and reasonable solution is Paul Gosar, AZ Congressional District Four and Chairman of the Western Caucus.

3.  State of Arizona is sole authority
Initiative needs to be taken by the State of Arizona to modify the States Constitution to mandate that the AZGFD is the sole authority to manage AZ’s wildlife.

At the end of this, if it’s ever resolved, the buffalo remain in the GCNP trashing the environment due to NPS’s over reach and in ability to responsible manage the Grand Canyon National Park System.