- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) - The National Park Service is thinning the bison and elk herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to keep them at manageable levels.

Crews in the southwestern North Dakota park this week are rounding up 600 bison. About 400 excess animals will go to American Indian tribes in the Great Plains, with the South Dakota-based Intertribal Buffalo Council determining the distribution.

The bison have no natural predator in the park, so the herd has to be culled about every five years, Ranger Linda Morton told The Bismarck Tribune. Officials carefully guard the health of the animals so they can replenish tribal herds.

“We have a very good track record - no injuries in the last couple decades,” Morton said.

Starting next week, the park will start culling about 20 elk to keep that herd below 400 animals. Unlike the bison, the elk are killed, with meat going to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program that provides food for charity.

The park is in the maintenance phase of an elk management plan that included large reduction efforts in 2010 and 2011, in which nearly 900 elk were killed. The herd had grown to more than 1,200 animals, when the ideal size for the park is between 100 and 400.

The special managed hunts in 2010 and 2011 involved volunteer shooters. The operation since has involved only Park Service staff. About 115 elk have been killed the past two years.

This year’s reduction effort could last into January. Roads, backcountry trails, overlooks and Cottonwood Campground will remain open.

“We don’t anticipate conflicts between the elk reduction team and the public, even without backcountry closures,” Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said in a statement. “Four years of successful reductions indicate that visitor safety can be maintained by using fewer highly experienced staff during this period of reduced visitation.”

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