11,000 give input on plan to kill elk

The National Park Service received more than 11,000 comments regarding an elk thinning plan during its 30-day comment period, a Theodore Roosevelt National Park official said.

Press Photo by Beth Wischmeyer The comment period on the proposed TRNP elk thinning plan that would utilize volunteer hunters ended Wednesday, with more than 11,000 public comments submitted about the plan.

The National Park Service received more than 11,000 comments regarding an elk thinning plan during its 30-day comment period, a Theodore Roosevelt National Park official said.

Though it's unclear when a decision will be made, it's possible a thinning may begin as early as fall 2010, a park official said.

The National Park Service announced in early August the release of the agency's preferred plan to thin what they say is an overpopulation of elk by using volunteer hunters.

The proposal, which would allow the use of skilled volunteer hunters with NPS staff supervision, would reduce the elk herd to between 100 and 400 animals. There are about 900 elk now.

Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said about 11,350 comments were received by the Wednesday deadline.


"Some people sent them in more than one way,' Naylor said. "Some sent electronically and a letter too, so that's not exactly precise."

Naylor said the agency received a lot more comments than expected.

"They came from all over the country and a good number of them are form letters," Naylor said. "We take comments a number of different ways, the Web site, by e-mail, by letter and fax."

Dickinson resident Lincoln Holz said he agrees with the use of volunteer hunters.

"I can't see spending millions and billions controlling elk," Holz said.

Holz, president of the Slope Area Rifle & Pistol Club, has never hunted elk.

"I probably would, depending on the time of year and such," Holz. "I do think the plan would be fairly effective."

A final version of the plan was released for 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 next step, Naylor said, is to sort out all the letters and have them analyzed.

"It's not a vote," Naylor said. "It's important that when people comment that they address something that hasn't already been addressed in the draft environmental impact statement.

"If someone just says I like the preferred alternative or I don't like the preferred alternative, there's not much we can do with that comment other than to make note of it."

Naylor said she did not have an estimate as to how many comments the agency may respond to.

"(After the comments are analyzed) then we would determine what our final alternative is and then we would develop our final environmental impact statement," Naylor said. "We hope to have that done at the end of the year."

Following the release of the final environmental impact statement, Naylor said after a certain period of time, the park service will make a decision.

Using volunteer hunters was one of several options the park studied. Others included: herd reduction through the use of sharpshooters; herd reduction through roundup and euthanization; shipping live elk to other places and encouraging hunting opportunities outside park boundaries.

In late August, officials from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department as well as Gov. John Hoeven stated they wanted further clarification on what state agencies would handle the meat, as well as other details on qualifications of potential volunteer hunters.


Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a proponent of the use of volunteer hunters, said the plan would not create a regular hunting season, calling the preferred alternative a "victory for common sense".

Naylor said the meat would go through a state agency before being passed to the hunters, if they wanted the meat.

"What we said in our preferred alternative newsletter would be the meat would be donated to state agencies, American Indian tribes, approved charities or other organizations," Naylor said. "If we donated some of the meat to state agencies, they could then do with it as they saw fit."

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