TRNP officials release preferred elk planThe National Park service announced Monday the release of the agency’s preferred plan to thin the overpopulation of elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Utilizing volunteer hunters.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Associated Press
The National Park service announced Monday the release of the agency’s preferred plan to thin the overpopulation of elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Utilizing volunteer hunters.
The proposal, which would allow the use of skilled volunteer hunters with NPS staff supervising, would reduce the elk herd from about 900 animals to a sustainable level, between 100 and 400 animals, according to NPS information.
Senator Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a proponent of using volunteer hunters, calls this announcement a “victory for common sense”.
“This is an approach that has some common sense to it,” Dorgan said. “I appreciate them (NPS) taking a hard look at the alternatives.”
Using volunteer hunters was one of several options the park studied previously. Others included herd reduction through the use of sharpshooters; herd reduction through roundup and euthanization; testing a representative sample for chronic wasting disease, and shipping live elk to other entities; encouraging hunting opportunities outside park boundaries; and fertility control operations.
The final version of the NPS Elk Management Plan /Environment Impact Statement was released for public comment from Dec. 17 of last year to March 19 and generated nearly 300 comments, producing the park’s current preferred alternative, according to a NPS press release. The draft version did not include volunteer hunters.
A 30-day comment period, which began Monday, will be held, after which, a decision will be made.
“This preferred action is kind of the agency’s proposed action as of today,” said Bill Whitworth, chief of resource management at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. “The final alternative won’t be developed until after the public has a chance to comment on this. It’s an option the agency feels will work, but again public participation is a critical part of this entire process, until that plays out we won’t have a final decision. But it is progress.”
It’s anticipated the plan for elk management will be finalized by December, with implementation to begin in fall of next year, according to a NPS press release.
The program, if implemented, would be used for two years and then be evaluated to determine if the plan has been effective. If it is determined it is not effective, then other methods will be considered to supplement the efforts of the skilled volunteers, according to NPS information.
“This plan is not creating a regular hunting season at all,” Dorgan said.
In a letter to Dorgan, Daniel Wenk, acting director of the National Park Service with the United States Department of the Interior said the department envisions between 50 and 100 volunteer hunters utilized on an annual basis.
A goal of 275 harvested per year has been set for the initial reduction phase.
“After you take that out the next spring there will be more born, so there’s always that two steps forward one step back kind of thing,” Whitworth said. “We think that’s a reasonable goal to set for each year.”
Whitworth said he encourages comments on the preferred plan.
Last month, Dorgan said he added a provision to the Interior Appropriations bill that would require the NPS to use qualified hunters to thin the elk herd.
In the plan, those animals shot would be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease. If they test negative, the meat would be donated either to the state or to other approved organizations. The meat could also possibly be given back to the volunteer hunters if they would like the meat.
“My understanding is they will find a way to transfer to the meat to volunteer hunters, they may have to go to another organization first, but will transfer to the hunters,” Dorgan said.
Whitworth said the meat will not be wasted.
The preferred plan is the right call, Dorgan said.
“I think this is the right decision and it gives North Dakota sportsmen and women and hunters and opportunity to help the forest service and do so without costing the taxpayer.”
To view the preferred plan, visit http://parkplanning.gov/THRO or request a copy from the park by calling 701-623-4466. Those wishing to comment may do so by writing to Superintendent, Attn: Elk Management Plan, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND, 58645 or by visiting the site listed above. Those interested have until Sept. 9 to comment.