Elk hunting expanded near national park

The Associated Press BISMARCK -- State wildlife officials are allowing more elk hunting this year in areas next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to try to cut down on the number of elk encroaching on private land. The National Park Service, m...

The Associated Press

BISMARCK -- State wildlife officials are allowing more elk hunting this year in areas next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to try to cut down on the number of elk encroaching on private land.

The National Park Service, meanwhile, is still figuring out how to address burgeoning elk numbers within the boundaries of the southwestern North Dakota park -- a process from which state officials withdrew earlier this year because the Park Service would not consider public hunting.

The state Game and Fish Department is issuing more licenses and expanding the hunting periods in two hunting units adjacent to the park. The 160 licenses -- more than double the number of initial licenses awarded -- will be issued through a lottery drawing to North Dakota hunters who were unsuccessful earlier in getting a 2007 elk license.

"The department is recommending this aggressive action in response to landowner concerns over the increasing number of elk coming out of the park onto private lands, and the fact the park elk herd continues to grow while the National Park Service goes through its legally-mandated Environmental Impact Statement process," Terry Steinwand, state Game and Fish director, said in a statement Monday.


Park Service officials are considering several options for thinning the park's elk herd, including having federal sharpshooters kill some of the animals. A draft environmental statement is scheduled to be released in October, said Bill Whitworth, the park's chief of resource management. That will be followed by a comment period that will include public meetings, he said.

A spring 2008 decision is expected, though "that depends on the volume of comments we get," Whitworth said.

The Game and Fish Department and some members of Congress have been pressuring the Park Service to consider controlled public hunting as a means of reducing the park's elk herd. Park officials say public hunting can be allowed in the park only through an act of Congress.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., have sponsored bills authorizing the national parks in their states to allow hunters to thin elk herds.

Udall last month released a letter in which Michael Snyder, a Park Service regional director, told Udall the agency was considering various options for the culling of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, including "qualified volunteers."

"We believe that we have existing authority to use any of the above where deemed appropriate," Snyder wrote.

In March, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a letter to Dorgan that federal law allows "authorized agents" of the National Park Service to thin animal herds, leading to speculation that private hunters could be named authorized agents.

Whitworth said Monday that the Park Service already was aware it could use authorized agents, but that they cannot be used to circumvent the prohibition on hunting.


"If it looks like a hunt, it is a hunt, and that's the standard we're going to be held to," he said.

Whitworth said Theodore Roosevelt National Park has no problem with the increased hunting on land next to its borders.

"We're all in favor of a recreational (hunting) experience outside the park," he said.

Elk were reintroduced to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt in 1985. The park has room for just under 400 elk, but the population is expected to grow to more than 1,100 animals next year.

The elk have multiplied rapidly in the park because there are few natural predators, hunting is not allowed, and the animals' winter survival and reproduction rates have been good. Theodore Roosevelt has been unable to ship elk to other parks because of a national moratorium on such moves due to chronic wasting disease in other states.

Along with the additional licenses in the two units of the park, Gov. John Hoeven has approved a new second season for hunters who get one of those licenses, and an extended season late in the year for those hunters and for initial license holders in the units who did not shoot an elk during the regular season.

The additional licenses will be drawn by lottery on Tuesday. Since a North Dakota hunter can receive only one elk license in his or her lifetime, a winner of the drawing is not obliged to accept a license.

Randy Kreil, the Game and Fish Department's wildlife division chief, said the changes are complicated because they had to be melded with existing rules. The elk hunting rules will be simplified in coming years, he said.


"This is a major departure from our approach to managing elk, and it needs to be done," Kreil said.

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