Game and Fish pulls support: Steps out of elk management plan

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has withdrawn its support for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's elk management process to reduce the elk population in the park.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has withdrawn its support for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's elk management process to reduce the elk population in the park.

"In a letter sent to the National Park Service this Monday, Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said the department would no longer participate as a cooperating agency because it cannot support the alternatives the park service is still considering for reducing the elk population in the park's south unit," stated a Friday press release.

TRNP Chief of Interpretation Bruce Kaye said Friday, "Certainly we were surprised and found it interesting they pulled out from the process at this juncture. Elk are a part of the whole Badlands ecosystem and having all entities involved with that system and being on the same table for a management plan like this is helpful."

Kaye does not understand the department's agenda, but knows it has certain policies just as the park service does. He hopes the relationship between the park and department is not strained due this conflict.

The park service's February newsletter came out with six alternatives determined by park staff for thinning the elk herd. The elk population has reached around 750-900 head. The optimum capacity for the park is 400.


Since many of the elk also reside outside the park, the Game and Fish Department has been part of the discussions on how to manage the elk population in the state. The department has participated with the park service for the past two years on the issue, said department Wildlife Division Chief Randy Kreil Friday.

"In the past few months, it became evident that the park service's choices of alternatives were not ones which could be supported by the Game and Fish Department," Kreil said. "In fact, they would not include an alternative to be evaluated which entails some sort of public participation with controlling elk numbers. The department understands the full-fledge hunting season is not a viable option, but we believe the park service should have evaluated the idea of using qualified, public volunteers as sharpshooters to remove and make use of those animals."

While the department will no longer be a cooperating agency with the park service on elk management, it will continue to manage elk outside the park boundaries as it has over the past decade, he added.

"We have increased the number of licenses available to the public for hunting elk outside the park and last year added an October time period to the hunting season to increase the harvest further. It was quite successful," Kreil said. "The department will continue to look at other chances to provide further opportunities of hunting outside the park, but no matter what is done outside the park it will not address the issue of too many elk inside the park."

Each year before the Game and Fish sets the elk season, the Dickinson office contacts all or most of the landowners around the national park to talk about the previous hunting season, how it went and any possible changes to the upcoming season. Kreil said doing so is a standard course of business and the department gets better feedback by contacting people and having those meetings.

Kreil added the Game and Fish has asked the park service repeatedly over the past two years to include some sort of public participation with actively getting rid of elk.

"We will continue to provide ideas for management outside the park, but we have not recommended anything beyond this because we feel those are reasonable, sensible and effective ways of dealing with elk in the park," Kreil said. "We're not excited about any of the remaining alternatives."

Hunting in any form has never been allowed and as far as TRNP Superintendent Valerie Naylor is concerned, will not be allowed in the park as an alternative.


"We can't just open the park up to hunting when half a million people come to experience this area and see wildlife," Kaye said.

In a previous Press article, Naylor said public hunting in the park is not a viable option due to the nature of hunting. Hunting is against the law in a national park and it would take an act of Congress to change regulations for hunting within the park, she added.

Hunting also would change the status of the park from being a national park to more of a wildlife preserve, said Naylor in a previous Press article.

"Hunting would cause a major change in policy and make the values change from what most park goers expect to find here," she added. "Hunting is popular with only some of those the park serves. We serve everyone and hunting may be something many others don't want to see here."

Naylor wants to keep to the national park code of preserving the land without the great disturbance she believes hunting would cause. It would also be difficult to haul elk out, she said.

The six alternatives the park staff proposes includes simply monitoring the elk and not taking any action, bringing in sharpshooters and removing carcasses by helicopter, euthanasia, translocation, the use of fertility control agents using no meat residue and multi-year efficacy and combining euthanasia for initial reduction and sharp shooting for ongoing future management.

Translocation of elk without testing for chronic wasting disease was eliminated as an option by the National Park Service in 2003 with a national moratorium. Naylor also said moving elk to the North Unit would not help things in the long run.

Naylor and other park staff also said reintroduction of predators and total removal of all or most elk in the park would unbalance the ecosystem there. Reproductive control alone could not effectively reduce the herd either, plus a reproductive agent for elk is not yet available.


There are certain aspects of the six alternatives which the Game and Fish Department is opposed to indefinitely, specifically including the use of contraceptives.

"That is not good wildlife management," Kreil said of the alternative. "We have a memorandum of agreement with the state veterinary office about using those chemicals on wildlife in North Dakota. We would do everything to prevent the use of that alternative."

Kreil opted not to go into specifically what the department would do, only that it would cross that bridge if it appears.

Kaye understands that until a fertility drug lasts for several years and doesn't taint the meat, it is not a current option, but it is one to be considered.

"I know the needs of the Game and Fish Department and state veterinary office will not want that to happen," he added.

Kreil is interested in what the public reaction is going to be at the workshops while Kaye said the whole reason for having the workshops is to get public input on the proposed alternatives.

The workshops are Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the TRNP South Unit Visitor Center in Medora, and Thursday, Feb. 22, at the North Dakota Game and Fish Office in Bismarck. Both are from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Public workshops on elk management have been done in the past. Workshops are happening Results from the public input at these meetings are to be used to develop the draft Elk Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement which the park service is required to do.


Once the draft statement goes out for public comment and is revised from those comments, the decision is recorded and put into the final statement. The park service is hoping to have it signed by 2008 and take action no later than 2009.

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