Grand Canyon Cattalo Status Obscured by Science Shell Game
NPS Paper Claiming Hybrids as Native Wildlife Dropped but Successor Still in Wings
Washington, DC — The National Park Service is juggling the fate of a herd of hybridized bison marooned on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency has withdrawn a controversial report claiming these “cattalos” are wildlife “native” to Grand Canyon, a classification which would prevent their wholesale removal – an action supported by conservationists and the park’s own staff.
The decision on what to do with this orphaned herd, introduced more than a century ago for interbreeding with cattle, has been taken out of the park’s hands and commandeered by National Park Service (NPS) Headquarters. In 2015, Glenn Plumb, the NPS Chief Wildlife Biologist, issued a document called the “Grand Canyon National Park Bison Technical Assistance Report” which overrode the park’s previous stance that the hybridized herd is not native to the park but are exotic animals which should be relocated.
On March 17, 2016, PEER filed a legal complaint seeking the retraction of the so-called “Plumb Report” on multiple grounds, including that it flew in the face of available facts, ignored scientific literature concluding the opposite and violated NPS’s own data quality and wildlife management standards. NPS had 60 days to respond to the complaint. Rather than defend the Plumb Report, the NPS punted.
In a May 16, 2016 letter to PEER, John Dennis, the Chief Deputy Scientist for NPS, indicated the agency is working on a new “multi-authored scientific report …intended for peer-reviewed publication.” He adds that this new, as yet unrevealed, report is “superseding” the 2015 Plumb Report.
“This latest Park Service bureaucratic shuffle more resembles a game of three-card monte than a legitimate scientific effort,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the NPS decided to discard the work of its own Chief Wildlife Biologist without explanation. “This new hide-the-ball report appears to be a nakedly political maneuver to avoid a credible and transparent scientific review.”
The stakes are high because the scientific question determines whether the cattalo stay or go: if they are native wildlife, by law they cannot be extirpated; if they are exotic, by policy they must be removed if they harm park resources – and the stagnant herd is unquestionably doing damage by killing rare plants, fouling springs and carving erosive trails into a very fragile part of the North Rim.
Dennis’ letter also declares that the issue of what to do with the cattalo herd, now grown to 800 animals, will be deferred to a “planned … bison environmental assessment.” These developments suggest that –
With the imminent exit of Superintendent David Uberuaga and his deputy, plus prior senior staff departures, Grand Canyon National Park personnel will play little role in this major, precedent-setting resource management decision within its own boundaries. At the same time, Glenn Plumb is being moved into Grand Canyon as its acting Chief of Science & Resource Management;
The NPS has predetermined the scientific issue of whether the cattalo are native by asserting the new unrevealed report has “fully satisfied applicable … processes and guidance”; and
The public involvement will be confined to short comments on an environmental assessment circuited for quick approval of the pre-selected NPS path – allowing state licensed hunters to pay for the privilege of “culling” this largely stagnant herd.
“The Park Service is desperate to create the illusion that these cattalo are some kind of mystery meat,” added Ruch. “There is no mystery that this is all about politics, not science, and that Grand Canyon will be the loser.”