MEDORA -- Further discussion between the National Park Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has not yet yielded any changes with the Environmental Impact Statement and elk management process to thin the herd in Theodore Roosevelt...
MEDORA -- Further discussion between the National Park Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has not yet yielded any changes with the Environmental Impact Statement and elk management process to thin the herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The elk population is literally a growing concern for wildlife officials in both agencies, as it could reach 1,100 animals by next year.
Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said a recent proposal, called "Alternative G" from the Game and Fish Department that discusses using certified volunteer sharpshooters as another option to thin the elk herd, has to be further analyzed before she makes any comments.
The proposal was sent in a letter dated Sept. 12, 2007, to National Park Service Director Mary Bomar from Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand. A call to Bomar for comment was not returned by press time.
Naylor added the letter containing the state alternative proposal wasn't sent to her, but she had seen it.
As of Wednesday, she hadn't talked to Steinwand about the letter or "Alternative G."
"Hunting isn't allowed in the park. We are looking at what is being proposed closely in conjunction with the Washington, D.C., office," Naylor said Wednesday. "We had meetings with the Game and Fish in late August and discussed alternatives and the status of the EIS. We also discussed the use of skilled volunteers analyzed in the EIS."
The park has been adamant about not allowing hunting by non-park employees or volunteers, which is a direction the Game and Fish wants to take.
The park's argument has been against hunting inside the park because doing so would take an act of Congress. State wildlife officials and legislators are looking to pass legislation to allow hunting inside the park.
Due to this conflict and nonsupport of the park's own alternatives for the elk population, the Game and Fish Department withdrew its support for the process.
Naylor said the alternatives the Park Service first proposed continue to be the ones they are looking at.
These alternatives included monitoring the elk, bringing in trained sharpshooters who remove carcasses by helicopter, euthanasia, translocation, using fertility agents with no meat residue and multi-year efficacy or euthanasia for initial reduction and sharpshooters for future management.
Translocation of elk without testing for chronic wasting disease was eliminated as an option by the NPS in a 2003 national moratorium.
Moving elk to the North Unit would not help control the population long-term, while reintroduction of predators and total removal of all or most elk also would imbalance the ecosystem.
The park's draft statement is slated to appear for public comment before the end of this year with a final statement done in the spring, Naylor said.
"Factors play into the timeline," she added. "If there are people with new ideas during the public meetings around the state, those comments and ideas will be analyzed. We won't have meetings over the holiday time period, but we want to give everyone a chance to comment."
Steinwand said the letter he sent to Bomar was part of a progression of developing alternatives and stems back to a meeting Gov. John Hoeven had in July and a follow-up letter Steinwand received from Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
Although Steinwand wasn't at the meeting in July, Game and Fish Deputy Director Roger Rostvet and Wildlife Division Chief Randy Kreil were there.
"Evidentially little progress was made on that," Steinwand said. "Now what we are showing is what we believe the intent was meant with the governor's meeting and an option so there is no second guessing. We want to give this a fair evaluation and the governor fully supports that."
A follow-up letter was sent to Kempthorne on finding a reasonable and sensible solution, he added.
"This option should be part of the process and there is no way it has to be the only one," Steinwand said. "I believe the opportunity for North Dakotans has to include this as a reasonable alternative."
Game and Fish proposes allowing North Dakota hunters the chance to hunt in the park after having special training by both agencies' officials.
The NPS and Game and Fish will screen potential hunters who have an elk license in order to meet certified volunteer sharpshooter standards set out by the agencies.
The volunteers would get licenses by a lottery while the season would run from November to February, which provides the least amount of conflict for the park's prime visitation time.
This also is the best time to take cow which are the focus of the herd reduction.
Kempthorne's previous response stated in his letter is he "is committed to evaluating the use of skilled volunteers as a tool to be used in reducing the population of elk inside the park."
The letter also states the need for "a cost benefit analysis for using volunteers versus contractors or NPS employees will be included (in the process)."
Kempthorne hoped the Game and Fish would rejoin the process, he added.
"We are committed to working with you on an alternative that uses volunteers so it could be added to and evaluated in the current EIS process," wrote Steinwand. "We understand from conversations with NPS personnel that the EIS will include an evaluation of using volunteers for a variety of duties indirectly related to reducing elk numbers in TRNP."
Steinwand continued, "we were also told that the actual direct control of elk would be carried out by Park Service personnel and that authorized agents, which could be members of the public acting as skilled volunteers, would 'work supplementing park staff on direct control actions.'"
In his letter, Steinwand discusses what has been previously proposed by the Park Service and parts of that directly conflict with Kempthorne's and the governor's intentions.
"Under the proposed NPS approach, as we understand it, these (park) volunteers would be basically agency employees and would, if allowed, be simply 'killing' with no element of fair chase or adherence to long held traditional outdoor ethics, nor would they be able to utilize the food value of the animal in exchange for their efforts," Steinwand wrote. "We seriously doubt many North Dakotans would want to become a volunteer park employee simply to participate in the killing of animals."
The Park Service's concepts do not reflect Kempthorne's or Hoeven's spirit with this endeavor, he added.
Steinwand further wrote he believes the alternative presented with the letter would be more cost effective than what the Park Service is proposing at this time.
In the alternative proposed by Game and Fish, it discusses the primetime for thinning the herd and removal options.
The park would be split into zones where volunteers are located and in charge of removal by packing the animal on horseback or by foot. The elk's head would be cut off to test for CWD.
Steinwand said the movement of elk during hunting seasons outside the park is tracked by ranchers and others who call the Game and Fish.
"We are hearing that the elk are moving farther south than they have before," Steinwand said. "We hear the harvest so far is going well. Every year is different and we are learning as we go."
Changes made to elk hunting seasons have been done for the past several years to help reduce the herd on the move in the greater Badlands region.
"We know they will typically go back into the park," Steinwand said. "A concurrent season could be part of the option we are proposing now. The problem for ranchers is how they expand and we are worried about that. We continue to monitor their movement through reports."