Elk-thinning plan passes committeeSen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. is putting Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s money where his mouth is.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. is putting Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s money where his mouth is.
And his plan to use volunteer hunters to help thin the elk herd at the park took a step forward Thursday.
Dorgan, an outspoken critic of the National Park Service’s draft elk management plan for TRNP, attached an amendment to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee’s annual appropriations bill that requires the use of volunteer North Dakota hunters to help thin the herd. The amendment also says they would get to keep the meat. The bill, and Dorgan’s amendment, passed in subcommittee Thursday.
“The amendment I got passed by the Appropriations panel yesterday will require the park service to use some common sense and save the taxpayers money at the same time,” Dorgan said in a statement.
According to the bill, the provision would force the service to use volunteer hunters, deputized by the secretary of Interior, to cull the herd and keep the meat. If they did not, then they would not receive an appropriation to pay for any other action.
Over the last five years the National Park Service and TRNP have been working on a plan to manage the herd, which it says is growing too large for park habitat to support.
The service released a plan and environmental impact statement on Dec. 17 for public comment. Included were six alternatives, none of which included volunteer hunters.
The actions included; no action, roundup and euthanization, roundup and translocation, hiring sharpshooters, fertility control and encouraging hunting opportunities outside of the park. All plans would include testing for chronic wasting disease.
Bill Whitworth, chief of resource management with TRNP, said the service had planned on releasing the final elk management plan along with a preferred alternative in the future, but this legislation will likely delay that.
“Ultimately for us to release anything to the public requires concurrence from Washington,” he said. “At this point we’re just waiting for further guidance.
“It would certainly require a step back in the process. Essentially we would need to consider that option in another draft.”
Whitworth doesn’t believe using volunteers would limit costs. Volunteer hunters are used at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Whitworth said, with an average annual cost of $150,000-$200,000.
The roundup and translocation option would cost about $15,000, Whitworth said, adding it could lower the number of the elk substantially in the first year.
“I’ve been pushing the National Park Service for more than two years to come up with a common-sense plan to thin the elk herd after I saw that they were considering hiring federal sharpshooters and using helicopters to transport the meat out of the park,” Dorgan said.
Dorgan said he believes a process similar to the one used at Grand Teton National Park could be successful.
“The plan does not open up any regular hunting season in the national parks,” he said. “Rather, it allows the park service to use qualified hunters to do the job under park service supervision, just as they do in Grand Teton.”
It is unclear when a final plan will be implemented.