North Dakota's TRNP Elk Management
On September 30, 2009 a joint press release from Governor John Hoeven and Senator Byron Dorgan announced that the National Park Service (NPS) and the state of North Dakota had reached an agreement in principle to allow skilled volunteers to assist with the removal of elk from TRNP. The following is a list of common questions and answers related to this announcement and the NPS's Preferred Alternative in the EIS. These questions and answers are the ND Game and Fish Department's interpretation based on recent discussions with the NPS, Governor Hoeven and Senator Dorgan.
Who is the lead agency for implementing this Preferred Alternative?
The NPS is the agency responsible for managing TRNP and the natural resources found in the park. Therefore, the NPS will be the lead in developing and implementing any actions intended to reduce elk numbers in the park.
What is the role of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD) in this process?
The Department's role in this process will be one of providing technical advice and assistance to the NPS as it develops and implements the process.
The NDGFD withdrew its support from the EIS process in 2007. What has changed?
The NDGFD has been involved in the multi-year EIS process in various capacities. Initially the NDGFD was a cooperating agency but due to significant differences in philosophy, the Department withdrew from this capacity in 2007. Since that time the NDGFD has continued to provide critical review of the NPS EIS process similar to any other interested agency or individual. Based on recent discussions and NPS willingness to reconsider the use of volunteers in what the NDGFD deemed to be a reasonable manner, the department has re-engaged as a cooperating agency.
When will this herd reduction process begin?
The NPS is currently going through the legally mandated process and will be evaluating more than 11,000 comments received on the draft EIS. Once the comments are reviewed, the NPS will complete the process, which includes another public hearing, a Record of Decision that will finalize their plans for managing the elk herd in TRNP, and publishing the Record of Decision in the Federal Register. It is anticipated this will be completed late this year or early in 2010. Actual reduction of elk will not begin until the fall of 2010 at the earliest.
Where does a person apply to be a volunteer in the elk management action?
At this time no application procedures have been developed and there is no method to apply. After the NPS has completed their EIS process and finalized their decision in early 2010 we anticipate they will begin the process of seeking and selecting volunteers. The exact method of accomplishing this has yet to be determined. The NDGFD will be providing technical advice and assistance in this aspect of the process and both agencies will actively work to keep the public informed when applications are being accepted.
I am a North Dakota resident. Will participating in this management action in TRNP count against my once-in-a-lifetime elk restriction?
No, it will not.
If I have had a North Dakota elk license in the past and was unsuccessful, will I receive preference for a chance to be a volunteer in this management harvest?
No, again because this is a national park, it is our understanding that anyone who meets the qualifications set by the NPS will be able to apply to be a volunteer. Being an unsuccessful elk hunter in North Dakota will not be a factor in the NPS's selection criteria, but anyone who has had a North Dakota elk license in the past will be eligible to volunteer.
Will the volunteers be limited to North Dakota residents only?
It is our understanding anyone from any state will be able to participate as a volunteer. The thinking behind this is that TNRP is a national park and belongs to all citizens of the United States.
What sort of qualifications does a person need to meet in order to be a volunteer?
The exact qualifications have not yet been determined and will not be finalized until after the Record of Decision for the EIS has been finalized, which will be in early 2010. Preliminary discussions on the issue of qualifications included: hunter education graduate or be excluded by North Dakota law, marksmanship ability, physical condition, and willingness to participate for a set period of time at a set time of year.
Does the volunteer get to keep the meat?
This was a fundamental question posed by the NDGFD from the very beginning of the TRNP elk EIS process. The NPS has agreed to let the volunteer keep the meat from the first elk taken by the volunteer. There is a possibility that a volunteer may harvest more than one elk. If that is the case, only the first elk may be kept by the volunteer and all others will be donated to American Indian tribes, food pantries or other nonprofit charitable outlets. It should be noted the NPS process that provides for the volunteers to keep the meat requires all the meat to be donated to the state. However, the state has determined the volunteer will be given a permit to keep the meat from the first elk he or she takes.
If selected as a volunteer will I be working by myself or as part of a team?
The NPS has indicated a desire to create teams of 4 to 5 people, including one NPS staff person. The team will work together to harvest elk over a set period of time in a designated area of TRNP, as well as collect appropriate information. The NPS team leader may specify which elk may be taken during the course of the team's time in the field. The NPS team leader will be required to have the same qualifications as the volunteers.
Will volunteers be able to take any elk they encounter in the park?
No, the management action will require taking of cow/antlerless elk only.
What other duties will be required of volunteers?
Volunteers will likely have to field dress and pack out elk, and collect the necessary biological samples.
If chosen as a volunteer but I haven't taken/passed a hunter education course, can I use an apprentice license?
No. This is not considered a hunt by NPS and apprentice licenses are only applicable for small game and deer.
Will the Game and Fish Department have elk hunting seasons open outside the park while a management action is taking place inside the park?
Yes. Timing of hunting seasons outside the park will be important to helping the NPS reach their population management goals.
Will the reduction effort using volunteers be a one-time occurrence?
The NPS has indicated that after the initial reduction in elk numbers inside the park is accomplished over a several-year period, the same volunteer system will be used for long-term maintenance of the elk herd in TRNP.