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Recreational Elk Hunting Does Not Require Yearly NEPA Review

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The 'Jackson Herd' is one of the largest elk herds in North America.

If you have seen a postcard of the majestic Grand Teton National Park, the herd may have been in the picture. Thousands of the animals roam the park and the neighboring National Elk Refuge.

Kent Nelson and Timothy Mayo, wildlife photographers, sued to stop a government plan to allow more elk hunting in the national park. Denying the challenge, the DC Circuit told the plaintiffs to move on.

Elk Reduction

The plaintiffs sued in Wyoming in 2014, but the issue dated back to 2007 when the park service adopted a plan to reduce the elk population. With more than 10,000 elk feeding in the area, the plan was to "manage" the population and ward off starvation, disease and conservation problems.

The 2007 Plan predicted that in Grand Teton over the "long term an estimated average of 232-287 elk per year would be harvested by 773-957 deputized hunters." The plan would cover a 15-year period.

Nelson and Mayo said the plan violated various federal laws, and sued for injunctive relief. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, they wanted the park to issue an environmental impact statement every year.

A trial court denied their motion for summary judgment, however, and they appealed.

Environmental Impact Statement

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed in Mayo v. Reynolds. The appeals panel said the original EIS was thorough and detailed.

The park service was not required to repeat its environmental analysis for discretionary choices in implementing the program each year, the appellate court said.

"Over the last ten years, the number of elk authorized to be hunted in the Park has declined from 600 to 300, with fewer hunters deputized to hunt elk in both the Park and Refuge combined than the Plan allowed for the Park alone," the panel said.

The DC Circuit also turned aside the plaintiffs' complaints about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feeding the elks, which contributed to their overpopulation. That would be a matter to take up with FWS, the justices said.

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