In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve on the Kaibab Plateau. His intention was to protect the mule deer from overhunting by humans and predation by natural enemies. He knew that human activities had depleted wildlife species throughout the country, and only a few locations in the West still contained the numbers that had flourished a few decades earlier. Roosevelt hoped that future generations of wildlife enthusiasts would be able to visit the Kaibab Plateau to witness an abundance of wildlife not remaining elsewhere.

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The plateau is about 60 miles from north to south and approximately 45 miles wide. It is bordered by the Grand Canyon on the south and east, by Kanab Canyon on the west, and high desert on the north. These vast natural boundaries isolate the plateau (Figure 1). An estimated 4,000 deer lived in this area when Roosevelt established the preserve, and he hoped that protection would increase their numbers significantly.

The United States Forest Service administered the new preserve as it had the surrounding forest lands since the 1890s. Ranchers grazed fewer domestic animals there for a combination of reasons, including degraded forage conditions and reduced permits from the Forest Service. The mandate of the preserve prohibited all deer hunting on the plateau and at the same time exterminated "varmints" such as mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and wolves. Bounty hunters diligently tracked and killed mountain lions, which they viewed as the most significant enemy of the deer. Wolves were already rare by 1900, having been almost completely exterminated by ranchers before the turn of the century. Although local ranchers may not have favored the establishment of a game preserve on lands where they formerly grazed large numbers of livestock, they certainly supported the removal of predatory animals that constantly threatened their cattle, sheep, and horses on surrounding lands.

Each year, local Forest Service officials estimated that there were more deer on the plateau than in the previous year. These estimates served to provide evidence of foresters' success in increasing the deer herd more than they reflect actual increases. According to Forest Supervisor Walter Mann, previous foresters based their estimates on very limited actual counts, since the rugged country on and around the plateau made complete censuses practically impossible (Mann, 1941).

In 1913, Roosevelt visited the plateau himself to hunt mountain lions and noted the abundance of deer (Roosevelt, 1913). The Forest Service report for that year chronicled Roosevelt's suggestion that some deer hunting be allowed. Hunting would require a significant change in policy, however, since the proclamation that created the preserve prohibited hunting, and no single individual or agency felt sufficiently confident of the situation to change the mandate of the preserve at that time (Mann, 1941).

When the newly-formed National Park Service dedicated Grand Canyon National Park in 1919, jurisdiction of lands immediately north of the canyon rim went to the Park Service. This divided the preserve between Forest Service and National Park Service administration. The boundary between the two extended across the plateau from east to west about 15 miles from the canyon. No barrier prevented the deer moving from park land to forest land within the preserve, and it soon became evident that differing management philosophies would lead to interagency conflict over the deer.

At about the same time this change in jurisdiction took place, forest officials began to report potentially serious problems for the future of the deer. They suggested that the abundant deer might eventually deplete the plateau of edible vegetation, but neither the Forest Service nor the Park Service took any corrective action for a number of reasons.



Last updated: October 10, 2001; Created: 20 April 2001.