Park Service: Elk-culling could begin in fallBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Volunteer hunters could begin killing elk from an overpopulated herd at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park beginning this fall, the National Park Service says.
By: James MacPherson, The Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Volunteer hunters could begin killing elk from an overpopulated herd at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park beginning this fall, the National Park Service says.
The plan, which is still weeks away from being finalized, would end a lengthy dispute between state officials and the National Park Service about how to deal with the bloated elk herd at the park, which covers about 70,000 acres in western North Dakota's Badlands.
Volunteers, rather than government-funded sharpshooters, would enter the park, kill the elk and share the meat with food pantries.
``It's supposed to be a rather quick plan that will achieve results within five years, if not sooner,' Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said Tuesday.
The ideal elk population at the park is 100 to 400, but the herd has grown to about 950, based on a count last week, said Bill Whitworth, Theodore Roosevelt's chief of resource management.
Federal law prohibits the use of private hunters and firearms in the park, located in western North Dakota's Badlands. But officials say a change in the law is expected to be published in the Federal Register in about a month.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Republican Gov. John Hoeven have pushed the Park Service for several years to allow volunteers to thin the elk herd within park boundaries in North Dakota, saying it would save taxpayers money and quickly take care of the problem.
The Park Service's plan is similar to one adopted last year that allows volunteer sharpshooters to thin elk herds at Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.
South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park also is dealing with an overpopulated elk herd, and is relying on hunters outside the park's boundaries to reduce the elk population. Park officials there say boundary gates would be installed to keep elk out of the park during hunting season, allowing hunters to legally shoot the animals.
Forty-seven elk were reintroduced in the North Dakota park in 1985. A 2003 moratorium prohibits the park from transferring elk elsewhere due to chronic wasting disease in other states. CWD has never been detected in elk from Theodore Roosevelt, Naylor said.
State and federal officials still are determining who will qualify for the hunt and how the volunteers will be selected.
Naylor said volunteers would have to pass a physical fitness exam and a marksmanship test.
``This will not be easy work,' she said.
Volunteers in groups of up to four people each would pursue the elk under Park Service supervision, Naylor said. She also said the Park Service may hire people to haul out elk carcasses.
North Dakota Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said elk have escaped the park and have eaten ranchers' hay supplies. The agency has increased the number of elk hunting permits outside the park in recent years to help deal with the problem.
Steinwand said about 550 elk tags are issued annually in North Dakota, and about half those who obtain one succeed in bagging an elk. Those who succeed are allowed only one tag in their lifetime.
Nearly 10,000 North Dakotans vie for an elk tag each year.
Steinwand said the elk reduction on national park land ``does not count against the once-in-a-lifetime state tag.'
Naylor said the herd reduction also would be open to out-of-state volunteers.
Whitworth said up to 275 animals could be culled from the herd this year.
Elk killed on park land would be tested for disease and turned over to the state for distribution to hunters and food banks, Steinwand and Naylor said.
North Dakota's elk season typically runs from Sept. 1 through Dec. 30. Steinwand said the state season could be modified to match the park's culling effort, which is expected to be set in the next several weeks.