Wuerthner: Hunting In National Parks Not Appropriate

This is a guest opinion column in New West.

It is proposed to reduce the obvious overpopulation of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park by hunting. There are other possbilities. Wuerthner doesn’t like the hunting option and explains why. He prefers predation of the elk.

I’d like to see wolves reintroduced too, but they would not very efficient at reducing the elk population in the Park because, as we have seen, wolves most often do not reduce ungulate populations. Rocky Mountain National Park is very small compared to Yellowstone, and in Yellowstone the wolves quickly expanded outside of YNP (as was predicted and desired). So it would really be a wolf reintroduction to Colorado, not to Rocky Mountain National Park alone.



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  1. TPageCO Avatar

    From what I’ve seen of the proposals for RMNP, it would be done at night by contract employees using silenced rifles. I don’t think this can accurately be called hunting – it’s much more of a cull. Although I have no studies to back me up, I think it would likely be easier to target specific animals and avoid problems such as shooting lead cows, etc., with a culling program, rather than a CDOW sponsored hunt. Having hunted the borders of RMNP in 2005, I can tell you that the public/private land situation there would make any true public hunt aimed at reducing ungulate numbers unlikely to be successful at anything other than generating huge negative publicity. Maybe he’s referring to a different proposal, I don’t know.
    One additional comment: Human hunters are native predators, George. As a hunter yourself you should know that…after all, how did elk get to be so good at avoiding us?

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    That’s what they did in the 1960s in Yellowstone Park when they reduced the population to under 5000 elk — they did a cull instead of a public hunt. Of course, in those days it wasn’t at night using silenced rifles.

    People who didn’t think Yellowstone Park was overpopulated with elk, and those who wanted to hunt the elk, finally forced an end to the elk reduction program and the herd was allowed to grow back, finally topping out at over 19,000 elk just before the wolves were reintroduced.

    As the population grew, more and more elk migrated outside Yellowstone Park, leading to the late Gardiner area elk hunt and the expectation that the Park was supposed to furnish elk for a January elk hunt just outside the Park.

    This won local support, although local and national interests continued to insist that elk were overgrazing the Northern Range.

    From this growing dependence on elk for the “late hunt” came anti-wolf feeling as wolves, bears and drought reduced the population of elk to the 8000 or so on the Northern Range today.

  3. Denise Johnson Avatar
    Denise Johnson

    If elk are a problem in the RMN Park. Then I propose that they have the rangers control the herd and donate the meat. After all it is their job…
    Just opening it up to hunting is opening up pandoras box. There is too much potential for serious problems. Who will be liable if a hunter shoots a park visitor, or shoots a moose or deer instead of an elk???
    Maybe they should reintroduce the grizz, the wolf, and the lion? Or use helicopters to push the herds outside of the park. Oh yes, but the elk could have brucellious!
    The real problem is humans wanting to control everything and not let nature take its course.

  4. elkhunter Avatar

    Denise, You talk like hunters are blundering idiots stumbling through the forest shooting anything and everything that moves. I would never say that every tree-hugger acts and behaves like you. That would be stereo-typing. I have hunted for years and years, and my entire family and friends have hunted for years and years and we have never shot a deer thinking it was an elk. Give us some credit and stop reading all that activist grabage about hunters. K thanks.

  5. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Any solution to the elk population problem should be a systemic one, not some one time fix. Personally, I think I understand the reluctance to allow hunting in national parks although it is obvious that this particular game management tool should be considered. As a kid I remember how the deer turned Grand Canyon NP into a wasteland of overbrowsed canopy forest with brown earth stretching for miles under trees with not one leaf or needle within 6′ of the ground. Denise’s goal of letting nature take its course would be admirable, if mother nature was guiding any of this any more, but she isn’t. The habitats in all NP’s are the products of decades of human manipulation and species favoritism that has left nothing even close to the pristine wilderness that these places once were. There are management hunts even in ecological reserves that harbor many endangered species. They require a bit of extra management and oversight, and a few more rules, but it can be done and done well.

  6. Denise Johnson Avatar
    Denise Johnson

    Mike… you missed my point. It was my opening statement!
    CULL the herd…
    Elkhunter…You always have your pistol cocked, and take things way too personal. Besides if the shoe fits, INSERT….

  7. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I don’t know much about the RMNP ,however I did just return from a week at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and can say that not only are there plenty of Elk and deer, they show absolutely no concern about humans in close proximity and, at least in the small part of the park I seen, the overgrazing was evident. Point is that the problem with an unbalanced ecosystem seems to be larger that just one or two National Parks. Maybe Yellowstone can be a model of how to proceed…….
    P.S. One of the coolest things ever was to see a mating pair of California Condors soaring over the canyon while their nestling was sitting on a ledge below them.

  8. Wolfen Avatar

    Are we talking overgrazing by livestock. I’m surprised but I did not thing wildlife could be known to overgraze. Maybe we need to introduce wolves!

  9. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Do a Google of Yellowstone in the early part of the last century of the photographs taken of the extreme overgrazing done by elk. That is one of the negatives of an unbalanced ecosystem. That same condition of overgrazing is happening in other national parks due to, I believe, a mentality of treating elk and deer as just another form of livestock and trying to manage them as such. Problem with that is that even livestock have a method to reduce the numbers while no such mechanism exists in the National Parks that I am aware of for the deer and elk populations, hence the present state of affairs.

  10. Wolfen Avatar

    I’m sure you have read most of my posts this morning when I was on a roll. My question was sarcastic because I do know that wildlife can overgraze. And I know that livestockd also. The only difference is that I am willing to admit is while most posts to this site willingly attach the livestock industry for overgrazing but see not concern for the wildlife overgrazing that can and does occurr as you state in our national parks.

  11. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    That is all true. While I am generally negative with respect to the livestock industry I also recognize that a segment of that industry are responsible stewards of the public lands they use however I believe that that segment is a sad minority of the whole and the down side is such that the whole industry needs some sort of a drastic overhaul. By the way, on your earlier rant you stated that “scientists had proved that cows were not responsible for global warming.” Well not entirely but have a significant contribution to global warming. Could you supply a link or list of peer reviewed papers that support your statement for my own edification please.

  12. Wolfen Avatar


    At least you are the first one on this thread to have realized that a segment of the livestock industry are responsible stewards. Most comments to my responses are completely biased negatively. Thanks!

    In your google search type in ‘utube global warming swindle’. Listen to the BBC documentary by scientists from around the world. It is the 1 hour 15 minutes and 55 second you tube video. Very good and informative. It analyzes the United Nations report in detail.

  13. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Wolfen – try reading this:


    or this:


    for a response to the BBC “docuemtary” that seemed to do a better job swindling a respected climate scientist into appearing on the broadcast than providing any real evidence that anthropogenic global warming is hoax. The arguemtns that program put forth as evidence appear to be widely debunked as far as I can tell.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    If you watch the “Global Warming Swindle” also be aware of this:

    The real global warming swindle. “A Channel 4 documentary claimed that climate change was a conspiratorial lie. But an analysis of the evidence it used shows the film was riddled with distortions and errors.” From the Independent (UK)

    This was also discussed on Real Climate.

  15. Wolfen Avatar

    I guess all this shows is that even scientists are divided amongst the global warming issue. However, we do not that the climate has changed but the change that is happening now has also occurred with much more dramatic effects than we are now experiencing over the last 10s of thousands of years. So I come back to the question then is What is all the hype Al Gore and company are trying to prove. Nothing, other than we are going through the same type of thing. And those global warming events that occurred over the last 10 – 20 thousands of years ago were more dramatic. And imagine this…..there were very few cattle to contribute to greenhouse gases! Hmmm!!!!1

  16. Wolfen Avatar

    I guess when Al Gore himsef claims to have invented the internet how can he be wrong? He is surely right on global warming. And lets debunk all the previous ice ages and much more dramatic global warming periods. You can believe what ever you want. It just depends on what side you want to take and who supports your issues. Nothing else.

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Wolfen shows an unfortunate problem — namely the idea that everything is just opinion, and it doesn’t matter what people believe. “I wish to believe the following.”

    I think this is George Bush’s problem . . . wishful thinking. Foreign policy debates are all just opinion, and it doesn’t really matter if I prove there are weapons of mass destruction before I invade or not.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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