Don't expect a final decision this year on how the booming elk populations at Theodore Roosevelt or Wind Cave National Parks will be brought under control. National Park Service officials say they don't expect to have the National Environmental Policy Act process completed before year's end for either park.
In each case, officials for the parks say the draft environmental impact statements are large, complicated documents. The Wind Cave DEIS ran to nearly 400 pages, and Theodore Roosevelt officials expect their DEIS to run close to 500 pages.
Over-population of elk, while perhaps attractive to some visitors who long to see these antlered ungulates, present problems for the parks. The elk can be voracious, quickly over-browsing areas. And without their natural predators, (i.e. wolves), there's little to keep their populations from continuing to boom, short of hunting.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, which has a similar elk problem, officials earlier this year opted to try birth control as well as sharp-shooters, adverse conditioning, and even herding to beat down the herds. Will those ploys be successful? The folks at WildEarth Guardians don't think so, and would like to see the park first turn to wolves to better manage elk populations.
At Wind Cave, one solution park officials are considering is the construction of fences to keep elk out of the park during hunting season. That way they'd be prey for hunters, who currently are prohibited from hunting in the park.
Now, back in April 2007 I somewhat facetiously suggested that the Park Service solve its elk problems by auctioning off hunting permits. That would not only cull the herds and generate some sorely needed dollars for the parks, but it could be better managed than an open hunting season in the parks.
Of course, there are many national park advocates who vehemently oppose any hunting in the parks, saying it would be practically sacrilegious.
"The no-hunting rule in national parks is so deeply engrained into our national consciousness (not to mention American law) that to permit it now would be like allowing 10 men on a professional baseball team, or redefining the marathon as a 42-mile race," Clay Jenkinson, the Theodore Roosevelt scholar-in-residence at Dickinson State University, wrote earlier this year.
Of course, there are units of the National Park System where hunting is allowed, but those are typically National Recreation Areas, preserves, and even some national seashores, such as Cape Cod National Seashore.
While Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who was in North Dakota earlier this week, voiced his openness to consider a public elk hunt in Theodore Roosevelt, he might not be in office by the time the Park Service gets around to making its final decision.