North Dakota Game and Fish Withdraws from Elk Management in National Park

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The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is withdrawing its support for a process to determine the best way to reduce elk numbers within Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

In a letter sent to the National Park Service Feb. 12, 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, located in southwestern North Dakota's Billings County.

According to a park service newsletter, the south unit currently has an estimated 750-900 animals. Through whichever alternative is eventually chosen, the park service would like to reduce elk numbers and then attempt to maintain the population at a lower level.

From the time the park service decided there was a need to reduce the elk population, Steinwand said Game and Fish has worked closely with the federal agency, because many of the elk are not full-time park residents. Rather, many animals spend considerable time on public and private land outside the park where they are part of a larger western North Dakota elk herd.

The park service will not consider hunting as a management tool and has eliminated from further consideration the alternative of controlled public hunting by qualified volunteers. Alternatives that are still under consideration include taking no action; initial reduction and maintenance by sharpshooting; initial reduction and maintenance by euthanasia; using fertility control agents; and moving elk from the park to other locations (currently not allowed because of disease concerns).

The alternatives will be discussed at public meetings Feb. 21 and 22. The Feb. 21 meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. MST at the TR Park visitor center in Medora. The Feb. 22 meeting is at 6:30 p.m. CST at Game and Fish Department headquarters in Bismarck.

The Game and Fish Department will send a representative to the meetings to provide technical advice, but will not be a cooperating agency.

"In our opinion, the alternatives to be reviewed with the public at the upcoming meetings will be met with a great deal of disappointment, skepticism, and opposition," Steinwand wrote in his letter. "Your (NPS's) own public scoping process showed overwhelming support by those in attendance for an alternative that would involve public participation in the elk reduction process....Instead, the reaction was to ignore this public sentiment and hide behind the circular argument based on an agency solicitor's opinion that says allowing the public to participate in reducing the elk herd would constitute 'hunting,' which is not allowed in the park because it was not included in the enabling legislation."

Steinwand said the Game and Fish Department understands that hunting in national parks has previously not been allowed, "but this is a special situation that requires a different approach," he emphasized. "Those elk are public wildlife resources and we strongly believe that if the park service needs to kill them, some type of controlled public hunt is certainly a reasonable alternative to include in the continuing evaluation process."