Private hunters might cull elk
The Associated Press BISMARCK -- The National Park Service says it will consider using private hunters to cull overpopulated elk herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Park Service Director Mary Bomar, in a letter to Sen.
The Associated Press
BISMARCK -- The National Park Service says it will consider using private hunters to cull overpopulated elk herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.
Park Service Director Mary Bomar, in a letter to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the agency "will fully evaluate the use of skilled volunteers as a tool to be used in reducing the population of elk inside the park."
Dorgan says the use of private hunters is the simplest -- and cheapest -- way to thin elk herds in the park.
Dorgan and Republican Gov. John Hoeven have been pushing the Park Service to allow hunters to kill the elk, instead of using government-funded sharpshooters.
"It makes no sense to me to spend millions of dollars on sharpshooters and helicopters when North Dakota hunters would be willing to take care of this problem free of charge," Dorgan said. The elk would go to food banks to feed the hungry, he said.
In a letter to Hoeven, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said he would like to see the North Dakota Game and Fish Department help with the elk management plan.
"We hope the state Game and Fish Department will rejoin the process as a cooperating agency," Kempthorne wrote.
Hoeven, who met with Kempthorne on Tuesday, said state Game and Fish officials "pulled out of the process because they didn't think the park service was being responsive. But now we're going to get them re-engaged."
Elk were reintroduced in the park 22 years ago. The ideal elk population at the park, which covers about 70,000 acres, is about 360 but the herd has grown to between 750 and 900 animals, said Bill Whitworth, the park's chief of resource management. A 2003 moratorium prohibits the park from transferring elk elsewhere due to chronic wasting disease in other states.
Park Service officials have said that federal law prohibits the use of private hunters to control the elk overpopulation in the park, located in North Dakota's Badlands. But a Park Service regional director sent a letter to a Colorado congressman saying the agency was considering "qualified volunteers" among the options for culling elk in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Dorgan asked Bomar to clarify the Park Service's position on private hunters.
"What this resolves is whether the Park Service has the authority to use qualified volunteers," Dorgan said. "They do have the authority to use them, but now the question is how they use that authority.
"I want them to use a good heavy dose of common sense because they can do it for nothing -- they don't have to spend taxpayers' money to do this job."
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in March that federal law allows "authorized agents" of the National Park Service to thin animal herds.
In her letter to Dorgan, Bomar said "authorized agents could include personnel from cooperating agencies, tribal personnel, contractors and skilled volunteers."
The agency says it will make a decision early next year on its elk management plan.
"There are several alternatives that will be looked at and we should not assume that using skilled volunteers will be selected -- or assume they will not," Whitworth said.
He said it could take up to three years to cull the elk once a decision is reached on how they should be killed.
Bomar said the agency's decision "will be based on science, common sense and what is in the best interest of the American public."