The National Park Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, U. S. Forest Service, and Refuge Branch of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife are all governmental units responsible to the public and assigned primary purposes by law. The situation where all are concerned with the same elk requires mutual respect for each agency's assigned responsibilities and cooperative actions for the proper protection and management of the elk.
Purposes of Parks
A 1942 treaty with 17 other countries established Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks as part of an international system for "nature protection and wildlife preservation in the Western Hemisphere." Interpretations within the framework of this treaty and the park's enabling legislation led to their being designated "natural areas." As such, they are to preserve natural environments and their biota, and provide opportunities for visitors to view and appreciate scenery and native plant and animal life as it would have occurred in primitive America. This amounts to the preservation of natural ecosystems for their scenic, educational, cultural, and scientific values.
Special management and protection measures are applied to provide opportunities for park visitors to view, photograph, or obtain an appreciation for natural scenery and wildlife. Roads, vista turnouts, scenic loops and trails are designed to provide access to scenic features and locations where wildlife can be seen. Interpretive signs, printed matter, museum displays, scheduled talks, and tours assist visitors to inform themselves or be informed to any extent they desire. Having park areas closed to hunting increases opportunities to see and photograph wild animals such as the elk and retains roadside animals most seen by visitors.
Purposes of Other Agencies
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, U. S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, Refuge Branch, have objectives that are primarily directed toward either managing the elk or their habitat so as to provide recreational hunting. The additional value of providing visitors to the Jackson Hole area with the opportunity to see and photograph the animals is recognized, along with realization that this is best provided for under park conditions or on the refuge during the winter season.
The controlled hunting of migratory elk on lands outside Grand Teton and southern Yellowstone boundaries poses no serious conflict with the primary purposes of the parks. Severe winters, distances from human population centers, large blocks of roadless wilderness, and the variableness of fall migrations tend to make close management of these elk for high sustained hunter harvests difficult. With the present large elk population, the objective of having hunting substitute for all other mortality appears unobtainable. Short of taking and holding the population to substantially lower levels, numerically high mortality of subadults, adult males, and old animals will occur during and after more severe winters. Such mortality appears to be rapidly compensated for by increased reproduction and survival in subsequent years. An important requirement in management may be that hunting is regulated so that it does not progressively reduce more vulnerable population segments.
The dual use of wild animals for their scenic and other values on park lands and for recreational hunting when they move outside boundaries will continue to require close cooperation between the National Park Service and other agencies for the foreseeable future. The use of portions of Grand Teton National Park to assist in the overall elk management program, when necessary, may require additional refinements to reduce conflicts with increasing numbers of fall and winter visitors. This could involve qualifying applicants for park permits for marksmanship, animal identification, and a knowledge of regulations for the specific purposes of obtaining needed control with fewer hunters and illegal kills of other wildlife.
The cooperative management program to restore historical elk migrations and distributions is expected to progressively reduce the need for large scale hunting programs within Grand Teton and allow desired elk kills to be obtained by hunting outside park boundaries.