The message to national park visitors who see antlers lying on the ground?
They aren’t litter. Don’t pick them up.
As the weather warms and scenic areas beckon outdoor enthusiasts, the National Park Service is issuing a reminder not to take antlers that deer and elk shed, either for personal use or commercial purposes.
The law applies to national parks, monuments, preserves and recreation areas, where no items — including rocks, artifacts and plants — can be taken.
In New Mexico, violators can be fined up to $200 plus $50 per pilfered antler. They also can be barred from a park area.
However, the penalties don’t dissuade poachers who are intent on scavenging antlers they can sell for a tidy profit, said Rita Garcia, a National Park Service spokeswoman based at Valles Caldera National Preserve.
“The sad reality is the antler poaching is a long-term, ongoing issue, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon because of the value,” Garcia said.
Antlers long have been used to make lamps, chandeliers and wall decorations. But in the past decade, they’ve grown popular as a source of natural dog chews, Garcia said.
Those who seek healthier, organic chews for their pets might not think of them coming from an unlawful source, Garcia said.
On eBay, antler chews range in price from $7 to $34, depending on the size and number in a pack.
There’s also a market for the antlers themselves.
Deer antlers weigh 3 to 9 pounds and can be sold for as much as $10 per pound. Elk antlers can weigh as much as 20 pounds and can fetch up to $12 a pound.
Elk antlers’ larger size make them more appealing to collect because they can fetch a higher price, Garcia said.
The shed antlers are a prime source of calcium for a variety of wildlife, especially smaller animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice and porcupines, and even bears and foxes have been known to gnaw on antlers, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service webpage.
If antler collection were allowed for the thousands of yearly park visitors — or even a few commercial operators — a vital food source for wildlife would become depleted, driving away many animals and diminishing an area’s natural character, park service officials said in a statement.
Some Western states have antler-gathering seasons. For instance, Wyoming allows antlers to be collected on public lands west of the Continental Divide between May 1 and Dec. 31.
New Mexico has no such season.
The Bureau of Land Management allows antlers to be gleaned from some of its tracts, but people intending to do so must check where it is permitted, said Courtney Whiteman, acting regional spokeswoman for the park service.
Where people can collect antlers with no restrictions are the state’s national forests.
It shows how the U.S. Forest Service and park service differ in their missions, said Julie Anne Overton, spokeswoman for Santa Fe National Forest.
The park service seeks to preserve and protect a natural environment, and the Forest Service allows various activities on its lands, such as outdoor recreation, logging, grazing and mineral extraction, Overton said.
“Our mission statement is that we are to sustain health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests,” Overton said. “We are a multiuse agency. That encompasses a broader reach than only protection and preservation.”