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Courtesy Photo Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) meets with Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar in Dorgan's Capitol Hill office Tuesday. Dorgan urged Salazar, who will oversee the National Park Service if he is confirmed to the post, to pursue the use of qualified volunteers to thin the elk herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Dorgan with Game and Fish

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Dorgan with Game and Fish
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Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.) said he agrees with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department on the elk situation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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Since the unveiling of the National Park Service's Draft Elk Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement on Dec. 17, Game and Fish officials have voiced their displeasure that the document did not include their "Alternative G," as a viable option.

Dorgan said the Game and Fish's plan provides the NPS with its best option for culling the elk herd, the use of qualified volunteers to thin the herd. Alternative G would allow for the use of qualified volunteers to go into the park, harvest an elk and keep or donate the meat.

"Frankly the Game and Fish provision makes sense. It's what I have supported. I think it just makes sense to do this the right way," Dorgan said. "It's disappointing that sometimes these things can't be done with common sense."

In the draft plan, the NPS put forth four alternatives including the use of certified sharpshooters, the roundup and euthanization of the elk, roundup testing and translocation and encouraging hunting options outside the park.

Previously, representatives from the NPS have stated the Game and Fish's plan closely resembles hunting because the qualified volunteers would be allowed to keep the meat.

"I understand that the law prevents hunting in the national parks, but that relates -- in my judgment -- to having hunting seasons in national parks," Dorgan said. "If you have to thin a herd of animals such as an elk herd, it seems to me, whatever you call it, it's going to be a hunt."

Federal law prevents hunting inside the nation's national parks and it would take an act of congress to allow for hunting in TRNP. Similar legislation was passed to allow for the management of the elk herd at Grand Teton National Park.

Dorgan met with President-elect Barack Obama's appointment for Secretary of the Interior, Sen. Ken Salazar, (D-Colo.) to discuss the elk herd at TRNP and other issues on Tuesday.

Dorgan said he hopes a new perspective may enable the Game and Fish's plan to be considered, but if it doesn't then he is prepared for legislative action.

"All I'm asking is that a little common sense be used in interpreting the law here. If they don't have that judgment we'll try to change the law to require this to happen," Dorgan said."

Randy Kreil, chief of the Game and Fish's wildlife division said that was "excellent news."

"If in fact legislative action needs to be taken to allow Alternative G to be considered then that's wonderful if he's willing to do that," Kreil said.

Bill Whitworth, chief of resource management at TRNP said Dorgan has been consistent in his support for the Game and Fish's plan, but the NPS can't consider it a viable alternative until it is allowed for by law.

"If down the road Congress does pass legislation that elk hunting is a mandated or of discretionary use in the park then we would have to revisit the elk management plan, probably," Whitworth said. "We're just dealing with the tools that we have and if the tools change down the road, we'll deal with that."

This isn't the first time Dorgan has had issues with a decision the NPS was considering regarding TRNP.

Dorgan said there was a time when prairie dogs had moved into one of the park's picnic areas and the Park Service had proposed spending $250,000 to relocate the picnic area. Dorgan said he looked at it from the perspective of why move the picnic area when you could move the prairie dogs?

Dorgan lost that fight and they moved the picnic area.

"The federal government -- sometimes -- some of the agencies, have no common sense at all," Dorgan said "And I'm not trying to berate the Park Service employees, they've got a lot of good people, but I do think some of those who interpret what they can and can't do just need a strong dose of common sense."

In a time when federal deficits are only growing larger, Dorgan said it's important to not waste taxpayer's money when a cheaper alternative is available.

Dorgan said he hopes common sense can prevail and qualified hunters are a considered a reasonable option, saving the American taxpayers money in the process.

"It just stands logic on its head. Just a little clear thinking will solve this," Dorgan said. "Not only for the tax payers, but you'll have a thinned elk herd, you'll have qualified hunters have an opportunity to thin that herd and recover the meat."

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