Wild animals must be managed

Editorial

Leave it to career bureaucrats to make a federal case out of a little wildlife problem.

The federal government’s answer to an exploding elk population in Rocky Mountain National Park is typically complicated and unnecessarily expensive, with the Park Service planning to hire specialized sharpshooters, at undoubtedly inflated rates, to cull the herd gradually over many years, at an estimated cost of $18 million.
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has senatorial ambitions, has a better idea.

Udall wants to take a more common-sense and cost-effective approach, by allowing Colorado’s recreational hunters, working under the supervision of the Division of Wildlife and the Park Service, to do the hunting.

It makes perfect sense — which is probably why federal officials seem wary.

“This bill does not declare open season Elmer Fudd style in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Udall said in a statement designed to anticipate the usual criticism. “It makes sure the Park Service has the authority to allow qualified Colorado sportsmen and sportswomen to participate under strict guidelines.”

Why go out and spend $18 million in taxpayers’ money to hire expensive “sharpshooters” for the job that recreational hunters are willing and able to do, far faster and at a fraction of the cost? Because the Park Service gets to play with funny money.

In fact, there’s no reason the herd reduction effort couldn’t pay for itself or even turn a profit, given the willingness of hunters to pay for an opportunity to bag an elk, with the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop.

You could probably hold a national lottery, get the job done in a few years and raise tons of money for restoring damaged habitat in the cash-strapped park. It would be good for the park, good for the economy, good for the sport of hunting.

So what’s holding the federal government back? A bureaucratic mania for total control and a fear of offending wildlife advocates, apparently. Even if it’s the right thing to do — and it is — a proposal to hunt elk in a national park is a compound controversy, sure to inflame the passions of anti-hunting types and self-styled park advocates.

But we think this can also serve as a “learning moment,” by reminding Americans that even national parks have to be actively managed in the modern world.

We applaud Udall for authoring the bill, knowing full well that it has the potential to alienate some of his green-leaning friends, and we urge others to get behind it. More delay will only compound the damage that elk are doing to the park, and increase the number of animals that will have to be removed to restore the herd to a manageable size.