How human stupidity is putting access to Canada’s national parks at risk




It was the closest I’d ever come to a bear.

A buddy and I had just finished a day of paddling on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, way back in the summer of 2008.

On the way out of town, we slowed to a crawl to go around a few cars parked haphazardly on the road.

I thought it might have been an accident scene — but it was more like an accident waiting to happen.

The cars were hurriedly abandoned because their occupants were all outside on the pavement, edging toward the shoulder, eager to grab pictures of two bear cubs foraging in the ditch.

In no mood to be around when momma bear would eventually show up, we rolled up the windows and high-tailed it out of there before you could say boo.

You’ve probably read and heard of many more such irresponsible encounters over the years, the latest of which was reported last week in Banff National Park.

According to media reports, a Calgary-based wildlife photographer was left aghast as he witnessed 20 to 30 people standing too close to a grizzly, disregarding a request by a Parks official to disperse.

One particularly fearless visitor was recorded as he walked right up to the bear, within only a few metres of it, in apparent bid to snap a photo.

These people were clearly too close: Parks Canada advises visitors to stay at least 100 metres from such animals as bears, wolves and cougars.

Parks officials also expressed frustration last week after multiple instances of food being left unsecured at a concession stand at Lake Minnewanka in Banff, leading a bear to feed there.

“We spent a lot of time and effort last summer and this spring to make people know how to behave and we’re disappointed,” Parks Canada ecologist Jesse Whittington told Postmedia.

The long list of extraordinarily dumb interactions between humans and nature makes me question whether people understand what our national parks are for.

They are there to preserve and foster the wonders and beauty of our natural world.

People are meant to experience and appreciate those things from a distance.

Humans should be visitors to our parks in much more than the literal sense: Our natural spaces shouldn’t be any worse after we’ve gone through.

The already difficult act of balancing conservation with tourism has undoubtedly become more difficult for Parks Canada as an increasing number of Canadians are availing themselves of their national parks system.

Every park in our neck of the woods has seen growing annual attendance figures between 2011 and 2016.

There’s been double-digit growth at Elk Island (up 30%), Wood Buffalo (20%) and Waterton Lakes (16%).

More people are also going to Banff (up 8%), Kootenay (8%), Mount Revelstoke & Glacier (7%), Yoho (6%) and Jasper (5%).

Banff and Jasper continue to lead the way in sheer attendance numbers countrywide, with 3,894,332 and 2,266,072 respectively in 2015-16.

And with free entry to national parks this year to coincide with Canada 150 celebrations, those numbers are sure to remain healthy.

Sadly, the number of naughty people will likely be healthy, too.

Continued human misbehaviour bolsters the case of those who believe we should tighten access to our national parks.

Loss of access would be a shame, as seeing nature first-hand is a fantastic and unrivalled educational experience.

Of course, this only works if people are actually willing to learn.

And as the recent influx of stupidity shows, too many of us aren’t.

On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC

Ryan Zinke, Montana Congressman, Confirmed as Trump’s Interior Secretary

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke won Senate confirmation Wednesday to lead the Trump administration’s Interior Department, garnering votes from several Democrats who threw support behind the one-term congressman.

The Senate voted 68-31 in Zinke’s favor — a solid margin for a Trump cabinet appointee after a handful of other nominees were approved by a razor’s-edge.

Image: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on nomination of Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior
Ryan Zinke testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, 2017. Michael Reynolds / EPA

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who describes himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” will oversee the department responsible for the management of federal lands and natural resources. He has defended expanding oil, gas and coal production, and has also warned that landowners in Western states are voicing concern over encroaching federal control.

“I have to go out there and restore trust,” he said at his January confirmation hearing.

Zinke, at the hearing, did noticeably contradict President Donald Trump by testifying that he accepts climate change is real and man-made.

“I do not believe it’s a hoax,” Zinke said, in contrast with the president, who previously tweeted that it’s a “hoax” created by China.

Related: Trump’s Cabinet: What You Need to Know About It

Zinke, 55, was also questioned at the hearing about a House vote this year that makes it easier to transfer federal lands to states.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fired off a series of tweets Wednesday explaining why he vote against Zinke, arguing that “you can’t be a Roosevelt conservationist when you vote to make it easier to sell off public lands.”

Still unconfirmed is Ben Carson as Housing and Urban Development secretary. Carson’s Senate vote has been held up since his confirmation hearing in January

Protect Park Rangers from Trump

Ranger cutout iStockphoto 300px

Take Action

Protecting our national parks requires the dedicated efforts of tens of thousands of Park Service employees, from rangers who protect wildlife to maintenance workers who repair buildings to interpretive staff who greet and educate visitors. But parks are understaffed, and a new order from President Trump could only make a bad situation worse.

Our parks need your help.

The president has ordered a hiring freeze on federal workers, including staff at the National Park Service. Federal managers have less than 90 days to figure out how to reduce the size of their workforce. National parks are already operating with limited staff due to past budget reductions.

If parks are forced to further reduce their ranks, it would mean even fewer people to repair trails and visitor centers, study and protect park wildlife, and teach visitors about America’s history and culture.

Don’t let rangers become an endangered species!

National parks have welcomed record-setting numbers of visitors over the last several years. Our parks need more staff, not less, to handle this increased demand. The administration recently made an exception to the hiring freeze allowing for seasonal staff like park rangers. That helps, but it’s not enough — there needs to be a waiver for ALL park employees.

And parks don’t thrive without protections for the air, water and wildlife that are central to their well-being. The hiring freeze could also affect staff at other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency that play a role in protecting park resources. We need these staff to remain on the job as well!

Take Action: Tell the Trump administration to exempt the Park Service and related agencies from the freeze so parks have the staff and resources they need to protect America’s favorite places.

Thanks for all you do to protect our national parks!

Montana lawmakers push for tribal bison hunts in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana legislative committee that wants to limit Yellowstone National Park’s growing herds of bison from leaving the park sent a recommendation Thursday to park officials for Native American tribes to be allowed to hunt bison inside the park.

The committee’s letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk came a day after members voted 9-7 in favor of the plan — even though there are no requests by the tribes to hunt inside the park.

Tribal representatives said Thursday they already have enough opportunities to hunt the animals outside the park.

“The idea of gunning down animals in the Lamar Valley or near Old Faithful is nothing the tribes have proposed or are considering,” said John Harrison, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Supporters of tribal bison hunts inside the park including Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton pitched the idea as a potential solution to the dilemma posed by bison leaving Yellowstone and getting onto private property.

Democrats objected, pointing out that no tribes have asked to hunt inside the park.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said longstanding policy prohibits hunting in national parks unless specifically authorized by Congress.

 Any tribes wanting to assert treaty rights to hunt in Yellowstone would have to submit the request to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration, she said.

Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association said state officials had missed an opportunity to push for expanded habitat for bison outside the park. Under a program in place since 2000, thousands of the animals have been captured and sent to slaughter after they enter Montana.

Several tribes with longstanding treaty rights hold annual bison hunts just outside Yellowstone’s boundary.

Those hunts have stirred controversy — with bison often shot immediately after stepping beyond the park boundary — while failing to reduce the size of Yellowstone’s herds. Yellowstone at last count had roughly 5,000 bison, a near-record level for the modern era.

Many Yellowstone bison carry a disease, brucellosis, that can be harmful to livestock and cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. However, no bison-to-cattle transmissions of the disease brucellosis have been recorded.

Yellowstone rejected requests from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to allow public hunting inside the park when the Democrat was still in office.

Groups sue to halt hunting at Grand Teton

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Environmental groups filed a pair of federal lawsuits on Wednesday to stop hunting that is now allowed on hundreds of acres within Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and has claimed three bison.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates claimed in the lawsuits other species could be hunted.

Hunting generally isn’t allowed in national parks, though Grand Teton for decades has hosted an annual elk hunt in coordination with state wildlife officials.

The hunt — formally known as an elk reduction program — was part of a state-federal compromise that enabled the park to be established in its current boundaries in 1950.

A 2014 agreement between Grand Teton and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials improperly allows hunting dozens of species on private and state land within Grand Teton, the groups claim.

The groups worry that grizzly bears and wolves could soon be targeted by hunters if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife succeeds in removing the animals from federal protection as threatened and endangered species.

“For more than 65 years, the National Park Service rightfully and lawfully exercised authority to protect all park wildlife,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the NPCA. “It should continue to do so moving forward.”

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.

The lawsuits involve dozens of parcels of state and private land called inholdings located within the park. National park land completely surrounds most inholdings, which total well under 1 percent of Grand Teton’s 485 square miles.

Significant inholdings include two state parcels, each measuring a square mile, and a pair of relatively small ranches of 450 and 120 acres.

National Park Service and state officials began discussing whether federal or state laws would be enforced on Grand Teton inholdings after a wolf was shot on a private inholding in the park in 2014.

Federal prosecutors declined to charge the shooter, finding that park officials had erred in determining that federal wildlife law for national parks took precedence on the private land.

Park officials agreed later that year that state law would take precedence on all inholdings. The four environmental groups are contesting that agreement with the lawsuits.

“Wildlife obviously don’t pay attention to title records and move around on all of those parcels,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “You cannot maintain the park, the integrity of the park as a preserve for wildlife protection, when you have these islands where wildlife can be killed.”

The number of Grand Teton inholdings dwindled after decades of buyouts by the National Park Service. Wyoming officials have been trying for years, with limited success, to get the Interior Department to acquire all remaining state inholdings.

The last two inholdings, together worth perhaps $100 million, command prime views of the Teton Range. In 2010, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell to the highest bidder if the federal government didn’t get serious about taking them off the state’s hands.

Recent negotiations between state and federal officials have focused on possibly trading the sections for federal land and mineral rights elsewhere in Wyoming

Onlookers dismayed by elk-herding hunters

Elk ambush

Elk ambush

A crowd of hunters participating in the Teton park hunt herded elk from a no-hunting area into a barrage of bullets on Wednesday, upsetting nonhunting passersby.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 4:30 am

Witnesses say hunters in Grand Teton National Park drove a herd of elk from a no-hunt zone and toward an awaiting firing line Wednesday.

The scene at the sage flats north of Kelly was a surprise to Michigan resident and Jackson Hole visitor Joanna Childers, who was on a wildlife safari during her first visit to Teton park.

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“It looked like a bunch of hunters surrounded a pack of elk,” Childers said. “Hunters were staked out in the road and around the field.

“You see these animals and they’re in a pack and there a bunch of rifles pointed at them from every direction,” she said. “Overall, it was kind of sad and pretty unfair.”

Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen — long an opponent of the park hunt — said hunter behavior Wednesday was as egregious as he’s seen.

By Mangelsen’s account, around 11 a.m. a person pushed a herd of about 100 elk out of an area off limits to hunters near Kelly. Once the herd was on the move, chaos ensued, he said.

“All the sudden somebody shot and they just opened fire on them,” Mangelsen said. “It’s really poor sportsmanship — it was illegal and it was just a display of totally barbaric hunting.”

The photographer estimated that 30 people were involved in the drive, that 25 shots were fired and that eight to 10 elk were killed.

Teton park officials did not corroborate many of the details described by Mangelsen and others, but said some hunters were ticketed Wednesday.

“There was quite a bit of action as far as hunters go and the movement of elk near Kelly,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. “At least two citations have been issued.”

Two hunters shot and killed bull elk Tuesday in the park, where harvest is restricted to cows and calves. The elk were confiscated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Skaggs said.

One of those hunters was also cited for shooting at a running herd, she said.

Rules unique to the park hunt prohibit firing more than one shot at a group of running animals.

Seven park rangers were still in the field at the time Skaggs spoke with the Jackson Hole Daily, and she said it’s possible there were other violations.

It’s legal for hunters to drive elk out of areas where hunting is prohibited in the park, Skaggs said.

Mangelsen said some people were firing from the road, which is illegal. Photos he provided show hunters with rifles and shooting sticks setting up on the roadside.

Jeff Soulliere, another local photographer, said the display left him speechless.

“It absolutely was a mess,” Soulliere said. “This is a national park, and you’ve got tourists on the road right next to hunters with high-powered rifles.

“It really struck me as, ‘you got to be kidding me,’ ” he said. “No one was taking safety into consideration because they were herding and surrounding them and they could have shot each other.”

[Too bad they didn’t.]

Gray wolf reported at Grand Canyon for first time in decades


Thursday, October 30, 2014 LAURA ZUCKERMAN FOR REUTERS
(Reuters) – A gray wolf was recently photographed on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in what would be the first wolf sighting in the national park since the last one was killed there in the 1940s, conservation groups said on Thursday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was sending a team to try capturing the animal in order to verify its species and origin, although federal biologists are assuming it is a wolf unless otherwise determined, a spokeswoman said.
The agency later issued a statement saying a collared “wolf-like” animal had repeatedly been observed and photographed on U.S. forest land just north of Grand Canyon National Park, and that wildlife officials were “working to confirm whether the animal is a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid.”
It said the collar “is similar to those used in the northern Rocky Mountain wolf recovery effort,” and that feces would be collected for DNA analysis.
Several photos of the animal were taken over the weekend by a Grand Canyon park visitor who shared them with conservation activists and park staff, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which first made the findings public.
A note accompanying images viewed by Reuters said two wolf biologists and “an experienced wolf observer” who reviewed the photos concluded they “appear to depict a radio-collared northern Rocky mountain gray wolf.”
Any wolf roaming the Grand Canyon, in north-central Arizona, would be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If confirmed to be a western gray wolf, it would presumably have ventured hundreds of miles (km) south from the Northern Rockies, where the animals were reintroduced in the 1990s and are now estimated to number nearly 1,700.
A separate smaller population, from a subspecies called the Mexican gray wolf, inhabits southeastern Arizona and western New Mexico, hundreds of miles (km) in the opposite direction. But the animal in question appeared larger than a typical Mexican wolf, experts said.
The sighting comes as the Obama administration is weighing a proposal to lift Endangered Species Act protections for all wolves but the Mexican gray subspecies, even in states where wolves are not known to have established a presence.
Center for Biological Diversity executive Noah Greenwald said the new wolf sightings helped show such a move would be premature.
“It highlights … that wolves are still recovering and occupy just a fraction of their historic range,” he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman, Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)

Grand Teton National Park wolf death shrouded in secrecy

By Mike Koshmrl Daily | Posted: Friday, January Jackson Hole 24, 2014 12:15 am

Even though hundreds of Wyoming wolves having been killed over the years during hunting seasons and for attacking livestock, until Monday not a single one had ever been purposely killed in Grand Teton National Park.

But that’s about all one can learn about the wolf that was shot in the park four days ago. Virtually no information is being made available about the animal that was shot and killed on private land within Grand Teton.

“Since present-day Grand Teton National Park was created in 1950, this is the first intentional killing of a gray wolf,” Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

What is known, according to a statement the park issued the next day, is that the wolf was 2 years old, was not wearing a radio collar and was accompanied by three to four pack mates.

After firing the lethal shot Monday morning, someone notified the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Grand Teton rangers at 10:30 a.m. that day.

Pending completion of the investigation, no other details are available, Skaggs said.

“We’re hoping to have a determination relatively soon,” she said.

Neither outfitters nor conservationists nor residents of Moran, Kelly and the Pacific Creek subdivision phoned by the Jackson Hole Daily had heard any other details about the incident.

Skaggs said she was not allowed to confirm if the lobo had been shot in defense of pets or property. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which is conducting a concurrent investigation, was also unable to release details.

“This falls under that state statute we have,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said. He was referring to a law that prohibits the release of information related to wolf hunting.

“We did go out and investigate it and through our investigation determined it falls within that statute,” Gocke said. “At that point I can’t speak to it any more.”

In full the statute states: “Any information regarding the number or nature of legally taken within the state of Wyoming shall only be released in its aggregate form and no information of a private or confidential nature shall be released

without the written consent of the person to whom the information may refer. Information identifying any person legally taking a wolf within this state is solely for the use of the department or appropriate offices and is not a
public record.”

Wolf hunting is never legal in Grand Teton National Park, including inside privately owned inholdings, Skaggs said.

copyrighted Hayden wolf walking

Gray Wolf Shot and Killed within Grand Teton National Park

[If not safe there, where?]

MOOSE, WY — A gray wolf was shot and killed at a private inholding within Grand Teton National Park on Monday, January 20, 2014. The person who fired the lethal shot notified Wyoming Game and Fish Department wardens and they reported the situation to park rangers at approximately 10:30 a.m.

Grand Teton National Park rangers and a park biologist responded to the area to investigate the incident. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is conducting a concurrent investigation.

The wolf was a two-year-old male and was not radio-collared; its pack affiliation is unknown. At the time of the shooting, this wolf was in the company of three to four pack mates.

The incident is under investigation by the National Park Service in consultation with United States Attorney’s Office, District of Wyoming, and no further information will be released until the investigation is concluded.

copyrighted Hayden wolf in lodgepoles

Government shutdown complicates deer hunting season at Mojave NP

The government shutdown-induced closure of all federal lands — including national parks — is going to put a damper on Saturday’s  opening of deer hunting season, when scores of hunters will be turned away at the gates of the Mojave National Preserve.

Compounding the situation is the fact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which regulates hunting, fishing and other game-related activities in the state, allows hunting in state wildlife areas, but must enforce the federal government’s closure of national parks and Bureau of Land Management territory — where hunting is normally permitted.

“If people are hunting, they are subject to a citation,” Andrew Hughan, California Department of Fish and Wildlife public information officer said Friday.

But there’s been confusion throughout the week as to what, if any, federal lands would be open to hunters on Saturday

The shutdown has made it difficult for state and federal agencies to communicate, and local officials are trying to clarify conflicting information.

“Mojave National Preserve is closed to all recreational use, including hunting,” said Linda Slater, the preserve’s public information officer. “Our rangers are going to use an educational and informational approach to work with hunters to help them understand the situation.”

The southern boundary of the sprawling, 1.6 million-acre preserve is north of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County, just north of the I-40 freeway, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Palm Springs. The preserve was established in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act by Congress and is part of the national park system.

“Mojave National Preserve is arguably the most popular location for hunters in Southern California,” said David Lamfrom, senior California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

But those who purchased hunting licenses and “tags” — required for the taking of certain big game animals, including deer — might not realize they can’t enter the grounds.

The preserve has multiple access points, a situation that creates a “high potential for conflict with law enforcement,” if disgruntled hunters decide to ignore the closure, he said.

“It’s public land,” Lamfrom said. “It’s going to be another example of a portfolio of people not being served. They miss the opportunity to do the things they love to do or want to do.”

“We share everyone’s disappointment that the National Park Service is shutdown,” said Slater, who happens to be on furlough but is handling press inquiries. “We look forward to getting back open as soon as we can.”

The preserve is the third largest park unit in the lower 48 states. Only Death Valley National Park (3.4 million acres) and Yellowstone National Park (2.2 million acres) are larger.

Dennis Schramm, who retired as Mojave National Preserve superintendent in 2010, worked at the preserve during the previous  government shutdown for several weeks in 1995 and 1996.

A couple of hundred hunters, many who’ve been coming since the preserve opened, look forward to the first weekend of deer hunting, he said.

“Opening day of rifle season for deer hunting is a big deal,” Schramm said. “They go to the same spots every year. The group campsites get filled up.”

He said the thinly-stretched preserve employees — only essential personnel are still working while most of their colleagues are furloughed — could face some angry hunters who might choose to bypass the barriers.

“It’s a major concern,” Schramm said. “If they don’t resolve this … it’s going to catch people off guard. Hunters are going to show up there and not be very happy. It’s going to be a very difficult impact for park staff.”

“Nothing about this situation is easy,” Schramm said. “It is difficult for the park staff to implement the closures, and equally difficult for the public to understand why they can’t just visit the parks anyway.”

Schramm, who was traveling with family through Durango, Colo. during this interview, had plans to visit some of the state’s national parks during the weeklong trip —including a visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

 “All the things we planned on doing this week, we can’t do,” he said.

Lamfrom said the fallout is going to be felt by gateway communities that provide goods and services for hunters and campers coming in and out of the preserve.

“The shutdown of the federal government has created countless unexpected and unnecessary impacts to the National Parks in the California desert, and on the communities that rely heavily on them for their economic well-being,” he said.

How long the shutdown lasts is anyone’s guess, he said.

“We’re all in denial,” Lamfrom said. “We thought it would be over the day after the government shut down. There are economic impacts that are radiating. Look how deeply connected all these economic systems are.”

When open for business, the three California desert national parks sites – Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park – combined, welcome more than 6,500 visitors a day in October. The three parks collectively infuse more than $230,000 a day into local communities.