Apr 2, 2014 4:20 PM by Associated Press
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - The herds of bison roaming the northern reaches of the Grand Canyon are causing headaches for park staff as the animals graze in pristine meadows, trample vegetation and pollute water sources.
The bison were introduced to northern Arizona in 1906 as part of a ranching operation to crossbreed them with cattle, creating hybrids known as beefalo or cattalo. The state of Arizona owns and maintains the bison outside the national park, but the animals now are making their home almost exclusively within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park.
Federal and state officials are looking at ways to manage the roughly 300 bison in a way that preserves the park's resources and allows for a free-ranging population that can be hunted on nearby forest land. They announced Wednesday that they'll begin soliciting public opinion on bison management.
The bison don't enter the canyon itself. But they do graze in sensitive areas of the park, such as Mexican spotted owl habitat, and around archaeological sites and springs. The iconic symbols of the West can weigh more than 2,000 pounds but run three times faster than humans, the National Park Service said.
Among the most well-known herds are the bison at Yellowstone National Park, which have lived there continuously since prehistoric times. Concerns over transmission of disease to livestock in Montana have park officials there assessing the bison's impact on the environment and looking at updating a bison management plan.
The state of Arizona became owner of nearly 100 bison after a rancher's experiment to produce a robust type of livestock by breeding cattle with bison failed. The offspring of animals purchased by the state in 1925 began wandering up the Kaibab Plateau in the late 1990s under pressure by hunters and drought, and into the national park.
Officials from the National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Forest Service have been meeting over the past five years to research ways to manage the bison.