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Managing Elk at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – The NPS has Released Its Plan

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Elk.

Elk on the Ridgeline Nature Trail at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. NPS photo by Nathan King.

How to deal with too many elk at Theodore Roosevelt National Park has been more than a bit controversial, with a North Dakota Senator weighing into the debate with some serious political muscle. The NPS has just released its preferred alternative for managing elk in the park.

The National Park Service (NPS) has released a preferred alternative addressing elk management at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The proposal calls for reducing the elk herd in the park from the current level of about 900 animals to a sustainable level between 100 and 400 animals using qualified NPS staff to lead teams that include skilled volunteers.

Skilled volunteers may include North Dakota sportsmen – who must demonstrate proficiency with firearms and meet other requirements established by the park – will be used to assist park staff in the removal process. In addition, to the extent practicable, animals will be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease. If the animals test negative, the meat will be donated in accordance with federal regulations and National Park Service policy.

The program will be evaluated after two years to determine if direct reduction is effective; if it is not then other methods will be considered to supplement the efforts of the skilled volunteers.

“This approach gets the herd down to a size that park resources can sustain, allows us to test animals for Chronic Wasting Disease, and gives us the flexibility we must have to better manage all of the park’s wildlife over time,” said Acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk. “We are grateful to all of those across North Dakota and the country who offered comments and invite them to review our preferred alternative and let us know what they think.”

This preferred alternative is the product of a public planning process that generated nearly 300 comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the elk management plan between December 17, 2008, and March 19, 2009. The preferred alternative reflects an analysis of those comments, as well as costs, efficiency, and environment impacts and uses a suite of options contained in Alternative B (direct reduction with firearms by federal employees and skilled volunteers), Alternative C (roundup and euthanasia), and Alternative D (roundup and translocation).

"The importance of public participation throughout this process cannot be overstated,” said Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor. “We are getting closer to a final decision on elk reduction, one that will be reached only after we thoroughly evaluate the public comments we receive on this preferred alternative.”
It is anticipated that the plan will be finalized by December 2009 and implementation will begin in fall 2010.

You can view or download the preferred alternative and the environmentally preferable alternative at this site. You can also request a copy from the park by calling 701-623-4466 or by writing to: Superintendent, Attn: Elk Management Plan, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, PO Box 7, Medora, North Dakota, 58645.

Comments on the plan will be accepted for 30 days, through September 9, 2009

It will be interesting to read the reaction to the recommendations from various groups. As might be expected, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) was quick to take credit for the outcome. His office released a statement, noting in part:

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced today that the National Park Service has finally agreed to a common-sense plan to thin the elk herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park – that will use volunteer hunters to thin the herd under the supervision of the Park Service.

Dorgan has been pushing the Park Service to adopt the plan ever since news broke more than two years ago that the agency was considering a number of alternatives including using professional sharpshooters and helicopters – at significant cost to American taxpayers – to cull the elk.

He said today’s announcement by the Park Service is a victory for North Dakota hunters who have shown a willingness to help the national park thin its elk herd, which is growing too large and threatening to damage park habitat.

“This is a good solution that will save taxpayers money, and allow qualified North Dakota hunters to play a part in this elk management plan,” Dorgan said. “This process has followed a long and tortured trail, but I appreciate the willingness of the new Secretary of Interior and the head of the National Park Service to settle upon a common-sense solution to this issue.”

Last month, Dorgan added a provision to the Interior Appropriations bill to solve the issue. His provision would require the Park Service to use qualified hunters to thin the elk herd.

In a letter to Dorgan today, the National Park Service clarified that after the elk carcasses have been harvested by volunteers, ownership of the meat would be turned over to the state of North Dakota or another approved organization. “If the state then wanted to give some of the meat to the volunteers that helped in the removal effort, that would be their decision,” wrote the Park Service. Dorgan said he will work with state officials to ensure the meat is in fact turned over to the volunteer hunters who want to retain it.

Dorgan has pushed the Park Service to save the taxpayers’ money and use some common sense in thinning the elk herd. This solution will help save taxpayers’ money and give qualified hunters an opportunity pitch in to help thin the elk herd.”

“This is a victory for common sense,” said Dorgan.

Others may see Senator Dorgan's approach a bit differently.

The NPS was faced with a delicate balancing act in developing the plan, and it will be interesting to see how the process plays out in the months ahead.

Comments

I agree that method of using volunteer hunters to cull the herd should be tried first. It makes the most sense. I hope it is a great success.


If the moose are very old, disabled, or diseased, then killing them makes sense, but I would expect that some effort would be put into resettling them if practicable. If healthy moose are to be killed, then I think that the hunters may take a family-sized portion and the greater balance if the meat given to poor Indians on reservations, homeless shelters, and/or other charities that feed the indigent.


Why don't they just let predators like wolves return to their natural habitat? Then they would not have to cull healthy animials.

I disagree with many of these strategies. I read about 200 wild horses and burros who were given to a man in Nebraska after Bureau of Land Management roundups, and he starved them. Why not just let them alone in the wild, concentrate on restoring habitat and ecology?


I think you have misread. Moose will not be dealt with in any fashion in this situation but rather, elk.


I applaud this decision to use volunteer hunters who have demonstrated firearm proficiency to help cull the elk herd in TRNP. This plan is cost effective and sensible. donating the meat (if proven to be free of MCD) is ethical and just. Huzzah!!


I agree. We don't cull people. Yet we constantly are overpopulating and damaging the planet far more then any animal could. If we would just let nature be nature and stop trying to control everything maybe we would have a better planet. We think just cause we can do things we should. By controlling animal populations in National parks they become like a zoo. If there was a balance of prey, predator and land there would not be a problem. But the lack of land and predetor problems are due to people, so our way to fix it is kill the now overpopulated prey? Why do we never look to ourselves as the problem and try to fix what people are doing to contribute to these problems? Maybe we should control our population?


We don't cull people. Yet we constantly are overpopulating and damaging the planet far more then any animal could. If we would just let nature be nature and stop trying to control everything maybe we would have a better planet. We think just cause we can do things we should. By controlling animal populations in National parks they become like a zoo. If there was a balance of prey, predator and land there would not be a problem. But the lack of land and predetor problems are due to people, so our way to fix it is kill the now overpopulated prey? Why do we never look to ourselves as the problem and try to fix what people are doing to contribute to these problems? Maybe we should control our population?


It's good to see that there still might be a little common sense left in this world. Thank you Senator Dorgan for all the work you did on this. Now let's carry this through.


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