In a major win for hunters, an appeals court upheld the use of motor vehicles to retrieve bison and elk in a national forest in Arizona on Wednesday after three years of legal wrangling.
The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt with a rule instituted back in 2016 and is, according to The Arizona Republic, “the latest development in a debate that pitted state and federal officials against environmentalists over how to cull oversized herds of bison that roam areas of the forest near Grand Canyon National Park.”
The rule would allow hunters to use motor vehicles to retrieve bison or elk in Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona if the dead animal was less than a mile away from a road.
Hunters will be able to use only one vehicle and can do so only during hunting season.
The Republic reported Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement that “the size of mature bull elk and mature bull bison can be as much as 1,200 pounds and 2,500 pounds, respectively, making it difficult for hunters to remove the animal without the help of a motorized vehicle.”
Brnovich “said leaving any edible portion of a hunted animal in the field to waste is unethical and illegal,” according to the report.
“Preserving the ability of elk and bison hunters to retrieve their animals is a win for conservation and a win for common sense,” he said in the statement.
James Zieler, Arizona Game and Fish Commission chairman, said, “The state entered this lawsuit to protect its sovereign authority to regulate, manage and conserve wildlife in Arizona. This ruling ensures that our hunters will continue to retrieve their lawfully harvested animals to feed their families.”
Hunters groups lauded the decision as well.
“This is a big win for hunters,” Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO, said.
“Hunters play an important role in helping wildlife officials effectively manage the populations of elk and other wildlife,” he said. “This ruling helps make that more of a reality.”
Arizona PBS, meanwhile, gave almost the entirety of its report on the ruling over to environmental and animal rights groups challenging the decision without consulting a single pro-hunting group or the officials who were in support of the rule. (Your tax dollars at work.)
Take WildEarth Guardians, who said the rule requiring that hunters “use the most direct and least ground disturbing route” to retrieve animals was unrealistic.
“I don’t want to speak for all hunters, but most hunters are not going to figure out what the least invasive route is,” Judi Brawer, a program director at WildEarth Guardians, said. “They are going to take the easiest route.”
However, the judge’s ruling rejected the claim from environmental groups that the new rules would open “the entire forest” to offroad vehicles.
“We do not disagree with plaintiffs’ assertion that motorized big-game retrieval can have a negative effect on the environment,” Judge Milan Smith Jr.’s opinion read. “But we nevertheless conclude that the environmental impacts … did not raise substantial concerns.”
The plan arguably represents the most appropriate compromise over how to deal with outsized herds of bison. Leaving them to rot would be silly and wasteful, and the animals need to be culled somehow.
This, unsurprisingly, goes over the heads of most tree-hugging organizations, who would be perfectly fine letting nature be even when it’s out of balance. Hunters are bad, limiting hunters is good.
Yet, hunters are the true environmentalists here. They help manage wildlife in a sustainable way — as we can see, given the size of the bison herds in Kaibab National Forest — and provide revenue for the government through tags and fees.
We also like them because they help strengthen our outdoors culture and help keep respect for the Second Amendment alive, but those are matters that can generate plenty of controversy. What isn’t is the fact that hunters help the environment and generate money for the government doing it.
And what do environmentalists generate? Scare tactics and lawsuits. The rules they’re fighting are more restrictive than a set of 2005 rules on hunting in the forest, but we still have this kind of nonsense.
Thankfully, we also have courts who have some common sense in the matter and who are willing to smack them down. And yes, even in the 9th District. Who would have thought?
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