(CN) – Bringing hunting to Grand Teton National Park has already led to the deaths of three bison, while putting wolves, bears and other animals at risk, conservationists claim in two federal complaints.
Located in northwest Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park is described as one of the jewels of the National Park System.
The park’s 300,000-plus acres of iconic landscape include the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, which rises from the valley floor of Jackson Hole to glacial heights of approximately 13,700 feet above sea level.
One of the federal complaint filed over the park Wednesday notes that it belongs to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, “one of the few nearly-intact temperate ecosystems remaining on earth.” Almost 2.8 million people visited the park in 2014.
With the exception of an “elk-reduction program,” hunting and trapping have long been forbidden in the park – including on 2,300 acres of private and state land within its boundaries.
After a gray wolf was shot and killed on private property in January 2014, however, the National Park Service revisited its policy and made an abrupt switch.
The agency sent a letter to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on Nov. 11, 2014, that apparently ceded federal authority over wildlife management on the 2,300 private and state “inholdings.”
“For many years we assumed that 36 CFR 2.2 applied on private inholdings within Grand Teton and prohibited the taking on those inholdings,” the letter states. “While NPS continues its interest in ensuring that wildlife management on private inholdings does not negatively impact park resources, we have concluded that 36 CFR 2.2 does not apply to private inholdings within Grand Teton.”
The two federal complaints challenging this determination were filed Wednesday in Washington.
“NPS did not provide any explanation as to why it changed its position concerning the applicability of 36 C.F.R. § 2.2 to Grand Teton inholdings,” one complaint says, led by the National Parks Conservation Association.
Joined by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, this group says the letter referred only to state inholdings, but “there is no legal distinction for purpose of legislative jurisdiction between privately-owned and state-owned land.”
They are represented by Robert Rosenbaum with Arnold & Porter in D.C.
Bozeman, Mont.-based Earthjustice filed the other complaint for Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, which says the policy reversal literally makes it open season on many species of animals.
“In contrast to federal statutory and regulatory authorities governing management of Grand Teton, Wyoming law does not provide protections for Park wildlife,” the 26-page complaint states. “Specifically, coyotes, jackrabbits, porcupines, raccoons, red foxes, skunks and certain bird species may be killed in unlimited numbers, at any time, by any lawful means.”
The National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition say wolves and grizzly bears could be added to that list, too.
“On March 3, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a regulation which would remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area from … protected status,” their 30-page federal complaint. “And the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Feb. 26, 2016 which would remove … protection as to wolves in Wyoming. If either of those species is no longer protected by [the Endangered Species Act], the state of Wyoming could allow them to be killed on park inholdings.”
Wyoming has already authorized bison hunting on state-owned land, which has led to three bison being shot and killed, the plaintiffs say.
While one complaint alleges violations o the Administrative Procedures Act, the other cites the Grand Teton Enabling Act and the National Park Service Organic Act.
They want the policy reversal set aside as arbitrary, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law. They also seek attorneys’ fees.
Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates are represented by Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who said the wolf shooting is thought to have occurred by someone “protecting a horse.”
“When the U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming consulted about the shooting, he came to the conclusion that it [federal law] didn’t apply on private property, but he was wrong,” Preso said. “That conclusion is contrary to law.”
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