Two productive years of culling elk at Theodore Roosevelt National Park have achieved the park's goal of reducing the elk herd in the South Unit to fewer than 400 animals, and officials say the population can now be managed without the need of volunteers.
When park officials approved an elk reduction program in 2010, their goal was to cut the herd from more than 1,000 animals to roughly half that number during the first two years of the culling program. According to a park release, through those two years more than 850 elk were killed.
"Outstanding efforts by park staff and nearly 400 volunteers resulted in the removal of 868 elk from the park over the past two years," said Superintendent Valerie J. Naylor. "We have met our goal of reducing the population of elk in the South Unit."
When elk reduction efforts began in 2010, the elk population in the park was above 1,200 animals. However, after two effective reduction efforts in the park and two successful hunting seasons outside park boundaries, the population is now at the lower end of the park's population objective of 100-400 elk., officials said in a release.
The park conducted an aerial elk survey this past January and counted 138 elk within the boundaries of the South Unit. This reduction of the population allows the park to move into the maintenance phase of the management plan. No volunteers will be needed to assist with elk management this fall, officials said.
"We are pleased that the management effort has been so successful, and we thank the many volunteers who took time away from their families and jobs to assist us with the reduction these past two years," said Superintendent Naylor. "We had originally anticipated that it may take up to five years to get to this phase of our management plan, but we got there much more quickly."
Because there is always uncertainty associated with counting wildlife, especially when the population is at a low number, the park must proceed cautiously with the next phase of management. Park biologists will use GPS collars and intensive monitoring this fall to refine the population estimate and determine if any removals are warranted.
If monitoring indicates that the population is still at the lower end of the preferred range, then no removals will occur this year. If, however, a few animals must be removed beyond those expected to be taken outside the park during the elk hunting season, Park Service biologists will conduct the limited removals starting in November.
"Elk are an important part of the badlands ecosystem, so we will continue to maintain a healthy population of elk in the park," said the superintendent.