After nine years of nurturing an elk herd, biologists at Great Smoky Mountains National Park believe they can remove the "experiemental" tag from the herd and develop a long-term management program for it.
“Since we released the first elk into the park in 2001 we have been gathering data to assess the long-term viability of elk in the Smokies, along with evaluating the impacts of elk on the Park’s natural and cultural resources, and their interaction with humans both in the Park and on surrounding lands," explained Kim Delozier, a biologist at the park.
"Based upon the slow growth in numbers from 52 to about 135, including 25 new calves in 2010, we have concluded that a sustainable elk population over the long-term is viable," he said. "The diseases of concern such as chronic wasting disease and brucellosis have not shown up and the problems that elk have posed to human activities -- things like scraping fruit trees with their antlers and entering vegetable gardens -- are mostly minor.”
Under an environmental assessment that's open to public comment through September 27, two alternatives are being considered. The first would be to continue what park officials describe as a "labor-intensive" management of the elk, an approach that includes regular radio-collaring of some elk and which requires park personnel to respond to, or assist with, all elk incidents in and out of the Smokies. That could include recapturing and relocating animals.
Under the park’s preferred and environmentally preferred alternative, termed the Adaptive Management Alternative, the collaring and tracking would be gradually scaled back to the point that only a sampling of the population would be tracked, primarily the adult females and all newborn calves, a release from the park said.
Response to incidents would be on a case-by-case basis with active response to elk issues outside the park becoming the responsibility of the state or tribal game management agencies which manage other wildlife.
Under the preferred management approach, vegetation impacts would be selectively monitored to determine if the elk have a negative impact on plant communities of concern. Elk habitat improvement activities including prescribed fire, which creates grassy openings in the forest that help support elk and other wildlife, would be conducted as the opportunity arises.
You can view additional details on the proposal, and leave your comments, at this site..
If you prefer to write down your comments on paper, they must be postmarked by September 24 and sent to:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738