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Published September 11, 2012, 09:54 AM

Theodore Roosevelt National Park moves into next phase of elk project

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — Officials at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are moving into the next phase of an elk management program, using technology rather than guns.

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — Officials at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are moving into the next phase of an elk management program, using technology rather than guns.

Superintendent Valerie Naylor says the western North Dakota park has finished reducing what was a bloated elk herd through managed hunts, and now it will monitor and maintain the remaining population using radio collars.

The National Park Service has contracted with an Idaho company to capture between 17 and 21 elk in the park's south unit and fit them with the collars. The work, which will involve crews in a helicopter netting the elk and biologists fitting the collars, is set for Wednesday and Thursday.

Elk are native to the western North Dakota Badlands but were hunted out of their range by the late 1880s. They were reintroduced to the park in 1985 and grew to a herd of more than 1,200, which park officials determined was too large for the park to sustain.

The effort to reduce the herd began in 2010, after a couple of years of debate over the best method. A plan to use volunteer shooters came about after former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and state officials objected to initial Park Service plans to pay federal sharpshooters to kill the elk. The special hunts, in the falls of 2010 and 2011, drew thousands of applications from around the country.

Park staff and nearly 400 volunteer shooters killed nearly 870 elk over the two falls. About 40 tons of meat from the animals was donated to charity and to American Indian tribes.

"We must continue to monitor and maintain the (elk) population," Naylor said. "Collaring some of the elk will help us to achieve that goal."

The radio collars will transmit data that officials will use to monitor the elk. The collars, each with a lifespan of five to seven years, will transmit data which will then be used to monitor location and movement of the elk. Park biologists will gain information about the habitats the animals frequent and location data will facilitate population monitoring.

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