MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — The National Park Service has killed about two dozen antlerless elk in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the past few weeks to help keep the population at a manageable level.
The western North Dakota park is in the maintenance phase of an elk management plan that included large reduction efforts in 2010 and 2011. The herd had grown to more than 1,200 animals, too many for the park to sustain, so park staff and volunteer shooters killed nearly 870 of the animals.
There are at least 215 elk in the park, and a small number need to be thinned this year to keep the herd within the population objective of 100-400 animals, Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said.
The Park Service uses radio collars to track the elk.
"We have excellent data on the numbers and movements of elk in the park and are proceeding cautiously to ensure that we maintain a healthy population," Naylor said.
A maximum of 80 elk will be removed by park staff by early December, when the project will end, spokeswoman Eileen Andes said. The meat from the animals is donated to American Indian tribes and to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, which helps food pantries that feed the needy.
During the larger elk reduction efforts the past two years, about 40 tons of meat was donated to charity. Those special hunts drew applications from around the country, after former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and state officials successfully fought initial Park Service plans to pay federal sharpshooters to kill the elk. Debate over the proper method lasted a couple of years.