Opinion: Time to cull the herd of bipedal mammals



An infamous video posted on YouTube in 2014 showed a cluster of young tourists invading the personal space of a Yellowstone National Park bison.

Being somewhat familiar with the intricacies of United States’ public land law and the extent of the federal authority to manage said property, including the wildlife therein, I believe a ready solution is available to the increasing conflicts within Yellowstone National Park.

The action proposed here would be the systematic and routine culling of the bipedal mammals which seasonally invade Yellowstone National Park, also referred to as tourists.

Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, enacted by virtue of the founders unimpeachable wisdom, provides in part: “Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”

For much of its existence the clause had all the legal scrutiny of the Third Amendment, until, of course, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 established the management standards for wild horses and donkeys on federal land. The act set up a showdown between New Mexico and the Department of the Interior, which resulted in the United States Supreme Court interpreting the property clause as giving Congress the “complete power … to regulate and protect the wildlife living” on federal lands.

This particular invasive wildlife, the aforementioned bipedal mammals, has increasingly disturbed the natural setting of the park in violation of the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, which requires the NPS to “conserve the scenery … in any such park.”

Indeed, no new congressional action would be required to pursue such a management strategy because the act explicitly provides the NPS with the discretionary authority for the “destruction of such animals and of such plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any of said parks.”

Under the National Park Service’s discretion, the rangers would have latitude to conduct the management in the manner they see fit. Options include Roman-style decimation, use of objective selection criteria such as the number of axles on a visiting vehicle, or implementation of Thunderdomes in the classic architectural style of the park’s lodges.

Also, Yellowstone’s natural environ provides unique fauna-based alternatives and variations for culling these invasive species, including enlistment of the unique talents of Ursa arctos horribilis, Canis lupus, and of course our newly minted national mammal, Bison bison.

The park’s geothermal features could provide additional means of nuisance wildlife control, with the added potential benefit of satiating the appetites of the old gods. See Joe v. Volcano (W.B. 1990).

Indeed, the United States Constitution and the laws enacted thereunder authorize a wide range of opportunities for culling the tourist throngs which are increasingly endangering the natural and scenic beauty of Yellowstone.

While the park and its rugged charm does an admirable job of thinning the herd, it is clear more aggressive management measures are ripe for undertaking.

John L. Wright is a partner with the Billings, Montana law firm Halverson, Mahlen & Wright, P.C.. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and the University of Montana School of Law, where he served as a publication editor for the Public Land and Resources Law Review. He enjoys spending time with his family, fishing, beer, creative misanthropy, and the revival of archaic definitions.

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