Hunters have once again proven their worth. The National Park Service is very pleased with the success of their partnership, and perhaps the lessons learned to our north could be applied here in Arizona at the Grand Canyon, where elk are a big headache.
Starting this past November and ending Jan. 20, teams of volunteer hunters accompanied by National Park Service personnel scoured 46,000 acres of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota to reduce the elk population that had exceeded the carrying capacity of the park.
The hunt was successful beyond anyone's expectations. The first-year goal was 250 elk, but 406 elk were removed.
It had been determined that the carrying capacity for the Park's South Unit, where the hunt was held, had a capacity of 350 elk. When that number was exceeded, the Park Service tried capturing and relocating the elk. When the presence of chronic wasting disease was discovered in the area's elk and deer, that option ended. In 1997, the elk population hit 400. In 2004, the Park Service began the lengthy and expensive process of developing a new management plan. That process ended six years later in 2010. By then, the South Unit had 950 elk.
From the beginning, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department suggested using hunters as volunteers to efficiently reduce the elk population.
The volunteers could keep some of the meat while the rest had to be donated to charity. This volunteer effort was carried out when visitation to the park was at its lowest and the remote areas where the volunteers operated were closed to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The volunteers had to attend an orientation and pass a shooting proficiency test, and the Park Service provided team leaders who led the volunteers. Shot distance was limited -- the average was 196 yards -- and only adult cow elk as chosen by the team leader were shot. The teams removed 30 elk per week on average.
The Park Service goal as defined in the Environmental Impact Statement is to reduce the elk population inside the Park to 200 animals. If they can duplicate the 2010 results next year, this volunteer effort will only take two years to accomplish that goal.
The numbers are impressive. 5,192 individuals from 46 states applied for the 240 volunteer slots. 181 volunteers participated. The effort provided 64,152 pounds of meat. The volunteers took home 161 pounds of meat each. North Dakota Native American tribal services received 21,543 pounds. North Dakota Community Action Partnership, which administers the state's Sportsmen Against Hunger Campaign, distributed 13,315 pounds to those in need.