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Tourists Share Grand Canyon with Elk and Bison

October 06
12:44 2014

bisonTourists can find it hard to share Grand Canyon with the elk and bison who call the national park home.  Like the tourists, they visit locations where there is water, food and easy movement.  The elk and bison continue to adapt to changes made in the park meant to discourage them from staying in the park.

The elk, for example, can block traffic, like to graze on watered lawns, and need a lot of water to drink.  Last year, Grand Canyon National Park replaced lawns with native vegetation to discourage elk visitation.  The water stations where tourists can refill water bottles are now attracting elk who have figured out how to operate levers that let the water flow.  People are now waiting in line behind elk to get drinking water.

Native Meriam elk populations were hunted to extinction around 1900.  Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park were brought in by train and released to populate the area around Flagstaff.  Fleeing development and hunting pressure and searching for better water sources, the elk gradually took up residence on the South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park where they are now habituated to humans.

The bison population on the North Rim impacts resources there by consuming huge quantities of water and vegetation.  The bison were imported by Charles “Buffalo” Jones in 1906 for an experimental ranch near House Rock. They were brought in to Kanab by train and cowboys herded them across country to House Rock Buffalo Ranch.  When the ranch failed, not all the animals were removed.  They continued to reproduce on the Kaibab Plateau and moved into Forest Service lands on the North Rim.  Eventually the bison herd, now numbering four hundred, moved into Grand Canyon National Park boundaries and stay there year round.

Small groups of bison have been moved from Grand Canyon National Park to land where they can be managed as wild game by the Arizona Game and Fish Department allowing yearly hunting seasons.  If you are near the elk or bison, please keep in mind that they are not domesticated animals, they are large, and very unpredictable, especially during mating seasons.

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