Park rangers and volunteer hunters could begin work this fall to cull elk herds at Theodore Roosevelt National Park by more than half if the park's elk management plan gains final approval in about a month.
That's the plan contained in the National Park Service's preferred alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement issued on the elk management plan this week. You can find a copy of the document at this site.
“We are approaching the last step in the planning process for elk management in the park. The plan will allow us to proceed with management of the elk population so that park resources are protected,” said Superintendent Valerie Naylor.
An annual aerial survey conducted last week showed the number of elk in the North Dakota park to be approximately 950. Although the park objective for elk in the South Unit is 200 - 400, the higher numbers are not currently causing measurable changes in the park vegetation or environment, officials said.
The purpose of the EIS is to disclose the alternatives considered for managing elk numbers in the park, including the preferred alternative, and their impacts on the human environment. The Final EIS addresses more than 11,500 comments received on the preferred alternative, which was released in August 2009 and incorporates other public comments received following the release of the Draft EIS in December 2008. The Final EIS is not open to public comment.
The EIS identifies a preferred alternative that primarily would involve park employees leading teams of volunteer shooters to reduce the elk herd in the South Unit of the park. The alternative also gives the park the ability to use other methods if the volunteer effort is unsuccessful in reducing the elk numbers to meet park population objectives.
In the next few days, the National Park Service will publish a Notice of Availability for the EIS in the Federal Register. Shortly thereafter, a Notice of Availability will also be published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thirty days after the official EPA Notice of Availability of the Elk Management Plan appears in the Federal Register, a Record of Decision can be signed by the Midwest Regional Director of the National Park Service.
The earliest implementation period for elk reduction efforts would be in the fall of 2010.