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John Odermann, Published December 18 2008

Theodore Roosevelt National Park releases elk plan

DICKINSON, N.D. – Theodore Roosevelt National Park released something Wednesday for which people have waited almost three years – but it wasn’t an animal.

Park officials released a plan offering four options for dealing with what is considered the overpopulation of elk in the park.

The options include:

- Having volunteers shoot the elk.

- Euthanizing the animals.

- Using sharpshooters to kill the elk (including government employees, contractors and other skilled volunteers).

- Encouraging hunting opportunities outside park boundaries.

Park officials presented the Draft Elk Management/Environmental Impact Statement after almost three years of discussion and data gathering, which often included disagreement between state and federal entities.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has pushed for the use of volunteers for elk management for nearly two years and said in a news release Wednesday the EIS makes it clear that is an acceptable method.

“It is unbelievable to me that the National Park Service would even consider saddling taxpayers with a huge bill to hire federal sharpshooters to cull the elk herd and ignore the opportunity to use qualified North Dakota hunters free of charge,” he said.

Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand and Wildlife Division Chief Randy Kreil said the department has not been able to fully review the 400-page document because the Park Service just gave them copies Wednesday, adding that it may be after Jan. 1 before they look at the proposal.

Game and Fish was part of the initial EIS process, but removed itself last year because it felt the Park Service was not taking its suggestions seriously, Steinwand said, but has since re-engaged in the process.

Steinwand said if the EIS, upon review, is how it was described to them in November, he will be disappointed.

“We’ve never said that one single technique or one single option is what it’s going to take,” Steinwand said. “It’s probably going to take a number of options, two or more, but we wanted certified volunteers from the public to be a part of that.”

Though the target population is 400, because of the possible reproduction rate, the herd could be trimmed to about 200, Naylor said.

“Our goal is to manipulate the population as little as possible,” she said. “If we do something that’s major, we would like to just do it once and then take the population to a level where we don’t have to do much to maintain it there.”

Naylor said no option is favored above another.

“Because we want to encourage public input on the alternatives presented, we are not going to select a preferred alternative until after the public comment period,” Naylor said.

Public meetings are not yet scheduled, but Naylor said there will be meetings in Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo and Medora during the comment period, which runs through March 19.

The elk, a species native to North Dakota, was wiped out by overhunting, and the park reintroduced 47 of the animals in 1985.

With no natural predators and an abundance of food in the park, the elk population expanded to about 900. The target population is 400.

The park transported the elk to other federal, state and tribal land to manage the population in the past. However, the park stopped the practice because of concerns over spreading chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease.

The Dickinson (N.D.) Press and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.