- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Key Democratic lawmakers are pushing legislation to allow hunting to cull elk herds and control a deadly animal disease inside national parks visited by millions of tourists a year.

Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado introduced the legislation in the House last week to allow hunting in the Rocky Mountain National Park in his state, and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota will put forth a bill this week to allow hunting in his state’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The lawmakers’ plans are opposed by some who say hunting should be allowed on some federal lands but not in public parks.

“Three million park visitors don’t want to be ducking bullets,” said one National Park Service official who asked to remain anonymous. “Hunting should be allowed in forests and wildlife refuges, not in parks populated by millions of visitors.”

The National Park Service says it can no longer rely on relocating herds to other states to control the population because it could spread chronic wasting disease — a transmissible neurological condition afflicting deer and elk that is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. Although contagious and fatal among deer and elk, no humans are known to have caught the disease.

One plan under consideration by the Park Service would use helicopters to herd the animals to a central corral to be slaughtered. Another proposal suggests using sharpshooters to down the animals and transport them later for disposal.

The Democrats’ legislation provides the means to kill the animals but does not direct the Park Service how to dispose of the meat, which is generally edible if certain precautions are taken.

“I don’t think we need to hire federal sharpshooters to harvest the elk,” Mr. Dorgan said. “I think North Dakota sportsmen with a pickup truck will do just fine.”

Mr. Udall said the legislation ensures that the Park Service has the authority to allow qualified hunters to participate under strict guidelines.

“This bill does not declare open season, Elmer Fudd-style, in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Mr. Udall said.

He said his plan will save taxpayer dollars, and he estimated the cost of using sharpshooters at $18 million.

The Sierra Club supports sport hunting and fishing to maintain plant and animal populations and habitats “when based on sufficient scientifically valid biological data and when consistent with all other management purposes and when necessary [for] total protection of particular species or populations.”

However, the club’s policy established in 1994 states that “because national parks are set aside for the preservation of natural landscapes and wildlife, the Sierra Club is opposed to sport hunting in national parks.”

A spokesman for the Sierra Club did not return a call for comment.

This article based in part on wire service reports.

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