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Elk operation

North Dakota Game and Fish Department Courtesy Photo Last year, volunteers successfully removed 406 elk from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Volunteeres will be back in TRNP to help remove more during reduction program.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is hosting its second straight year of the elk reduction program.

But make no mistake, this isn't a fortified hunt.

This reduction program gives volunteers a chance to help the national park control its elk population.

"The reduction is to keep this population to being the dominant factor in the park," wildfire biologist Mike Oehler said. "Just like anything, if it's unchecked there would be nothing but elk.

"Elk don't have any predators, so we need to act as the predators."

Through last year's reduction process, 406 elk were successfully removed. TRNP Superintendent Valerie Naylor doesn't expect that number to get any higher, because there are less elk this season.

"We do hope to have a high success rate like we did last year," she said.

The number of applicants was so large last year, with more than 5,200 applications fighting for 240 spots, it seemed almost impossible to be selected as a volunteer. This season, the number dropped to 875 applicants vying for 200 spots, a number that was more manageable.

"Last year was the first year of this reduction," Naylor said. "There was a lot of media attention for months, weeks and years leading up to it, so I think that's why the got so many applicants."

North Dakota and Minnesota residents made up the majority of the applicants. North Dakota makes up 42 percent this year and 23 percent are from Minnesota.

"Not as many people are willing to come across the country, even though we do have applicants from South Carolina, California and Alaska," Naylor said.

All accepted applicants have until Aug. 22 to return the required paperwork to be allowed as a volunteer. If letter recipients don't return the paperwork, there will a second draw for reduction volunteers.

The volunteers will be part of a two-to-four person group and will go out with a certified team leader.

"We are not guides," Oehler said. "That is the common misconception; guide infers that major objective is a level customer satisfaction.

"That's not the most important thing. The most important things are to being safe and to reduce the elk population."

TRNP will perform the reduction process on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week from Oct. 18 to Dec. 22.

"While it does inconvenience some people, because we have visitors everyday, we felt that it would be less of an impact to the park if we kept to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," Naylor said.

Before putting on the reduction program last year, TRNP created a host of guidelines.

Meat is one of the main commodities coming from the reduction.

"A lot of the meat is donated to Indian tribes throughout the state or to Sportsman Against Hunger, which stocks food pantries throughout the states," Naylor said. "The volunteers in the program, depending on the success of the team, are allowed to take one elk home per person."

Even though there were zero injuries last year, Oehler said the park still has to take the same amount of precautions.

"We have medical contingencies and EMT's for different types of things to happen," Oehler said. "We are prepared and you hope that it doesn't happen."