July 1, 2009


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

When U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan told the National Park Service that he wanted a “common sense” approach to resolving the over-population of the elk herd in the South Unit of the National Park Service, he expected them to take that approach. But unfortunately, the Park Service chose not to include an option of using North Dakota hunters as volunteers and allow them to keep the meat as one of their herd reduction options.
Dorgan and North Dakota officials believe that using volunteer hunters is not only a viable plan to reduce elk numbers, but it is also the most cost-effective plan that the Park Service could utilize to get the park’s elk numbers back to an acceptable level.
And since the Park Service didn’t seem to take Dorgan seriously, he has now followed up on his threat to use Congress to force Theodore Roosevelt National Park to use qualified North Dakota hunters to thin the elk herd. Last week, Dorgan, a member of the Senate Interior Department’s appropriations subcommittee, inserted bill language that says the park can’t use annual funds to reduce elk unless it allows volunteer hunters who can keep the meat.
According to Dorgan, the language in the Park Service’s appropriation bill will replace any alternative that the park comes up with.
Maybe you can call Dorgan’s response to the National Park Service’s decision not to include North Dakota volunteer hunters as one of their preferred alternatives a case of “tough love.” But Dorgan’s message to the National Park Service is the same message that the State of North Dakota has been trying to get across to the park’s bureaucrats for more than two years. And that message is simple. No one is asking the National Park Service to open the South Unit to full scale hunting. Instead, what is being offered is an option for the Park Service to utilize private hunters, under Park Service supervision, to eliminate the excess numbers of elk in the most cost-effective method possible. Dorgan’s plan follows a model of the animal reduction plan that has been used successfully in the Grand Teton National Park.
As I’ve said before in earlier columns on this subject, the Park Service needed to give very serious consideration to the use of private hunters to reduce the elk numbers. Instead, they preferred options ranging from using park rangers or agents to shoot the elk; rounding up the elk and then euthanizing the excess animals; killing approximately one-third of the excess numbers to test for chronic wasting disease, and then relocating the remainder if the killed animals do not test positive for the disease; or hiring helicopters to chase the elk out of the park where they could be shot during the state’s elk hunting season.
Dorgan is right. The Park Service needed to take a more “common sense” approach to getting the South Unit’s elk population under control. The Park Service can either use free North Dakota hunters to help reduce the number of elk in the park or they can spend millions of dollars a year to accomplish the same goal.
The National Park Service missed a golden opportunity to work with North Dakota to help solve the problem. And now it looks like it is going to take “An Act of Congress” to do what it should have done two years ago. Dorgan is going to make sure that Congress gets involved.