Dorgan’s Proposed Folly — Elk Hunting in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

ElkDeadinfieldToday’s NYT has an editorial on a proposed elk hunt in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  The herd has grown to over 900 animals since 1985, when elk were reintroduced to the region.  Apparently, a herd of that size stresses the ecosystem so Senator Dorgan has proposed a “common sense” solution of allowing elk hunting in the park.

This is a remarkably bad idea for all sorts of reasons, not least because hunting is prohibited in national parks (with the sole statutory exception of Grand Teton).  It also reflects the tired (and wrong) notion that hunting represents an ecologically sound management practice.  It does not.  Hunters want trophies and consequently kill the strongest animals — precisely those whose genes should be transmitted to future generations.  Predators, on the other hand, cull herds in a way that is ecosystemically beneficial.  They prey on the weakest in the herd, reducing its numbers while strengthening its gene pool.

The Times editorial rightly condemns Senator Dorgan’s proposal but unfortunately endorses using professional sharpshooters instead.  That the predator option (can you say “wolves?”) remains off the table is an unfortunate commentary on our ongoing national myopia.

–David Cassuto

23 Responses

  1. […] original post here: Dorgan's Proposed Folly — Elk Hunting in Theodore Roosevelt … July 8th, 2009 at 5:02 […]

  2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park isn’t big enough to support wolves or even one grizzly bear. The option was considered and dismissed in the Draft Elk Management Plan.

  3. It was, in my view, dismissed prematurely. The park is on the low end of what could support a wolf pack. The draft report acknowledges this:
    “[T]he size of the South Unit of the park, approximately 72 square miles, is on the low end of, or below, the area needed to sustain grizzly bears or wolves. Female grizzly bears generally require between 50 and 200 square miles; male grizzly bears need between 200 and 500 square miles (USFWS 2007b). A wolf pack, which usually consists of more than seven wolves, generally requires between 50 and 1,000 square miles (USFWS 2007c).”

  4. yea feed elk meat to wolves instead of people,get a clue.they are a resource use them,they can make more.

  5. I’ve noticed that those most bereft of clues are also those most often advising others on the search. Ironic, that.

  6. Sorry David but you are misinformed on the opinion that hunting cannot support sound ecological management. There is a very wide range of regulations that can be imposed on a hunting season, especially in a specific situation such as this. Speaking from an educational background in zoology and wildlife medicine, and with a familiarity of the region and specific locale, I can also give a fairly educated opinion that a wolf pack would not have a good chance of success. Notice that in the mangagement plan they specifically added the words “or below” in reference to the size of the area in question. Why spend, maybe hundreds of thousands?, of dollars in attempt that has low probability of success when there is an option that has hight probability of success? I think the park service and US Fish and Wildlife can find a use for those dollars where they would more wisely used.

  7. Well, we differ on a number of points. The “or below” is rhetorical; the report explicitly states that 50 square miles is more or less the floor and the park is 72 square miles. Second, any FWS $$ spent attempting to right a very out of balance ecosystem through predator reintroduction would be, in my opinion, $$ exceedingly well spent. We disagree also about the efficacy of hunting in these circumstances. For me, it’s additionally a matter of environmental ethics. Humans killing elk that have proliferated because humans have extirpated the predators and unbalanced the ecosystem makes considerably less sense than facilitating the ecosystem’s recovery through enabling the return of those predators.

  8. Thanks for giving this information, but I had doubts about this. Knowing that Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located in North Dakota doesn’t have enough area,and because it was a national park.

  9. They aren’t going to be shooting trophy animals. They will be shooting cows. You need to get your story straight. Also if they don’t let hunters shoot the elk they will just bring in government sharp shooters.

  10. Josh, You might want to read the post (again?) . Then your criticisms might have something to do with what I actually wrote. In addition, the choice is not between who gets to shoot the animals; it involves whether to shoot the animals at all.

  11. Wolf management doesn’t make sense. Hunter could pay a fee to hunt and the Park service could place quota on total number to be taken and the sex. Therefore, the Park service wins two ways. The heard is controlled and some well needed money is brought in.

  12. I don’t know what the big deal is w/ this program. It kinda sounds like it will work, and will bring a lot more interest by locals to the park. I don’t agree that a wolf pack would work to control the heard. There are plenty of deer around for them to eat, so why would they follow the heard of elk around. I think it would be hit and miss for the wolves to even take an elk there unless pinned in w/ them. I’d see that as being sort of condescending. A lot like putting an oscar w/ a school of goldfish. Having a predator pinned closely to the heard may cause stress in the heard leading to more sick in the heard for the predator to eat. You also don’t understand apparently that wolf packs have pups yearly. How do you propose controlling that aspect since there is only room in your figures for one pack. In my figures there would be several pairs after a few years and several packs after about ten. Would this be too much for the small area to support? How do you propose to fix that problem? Cut a hole in the fence, so that the poor wolves can eat the neighbor ranches cattle or farmed elk across the highway. You have mentioned your partiality to culling anything off.

    I don’t think Theodore Roosevelt himself meant for the national parks that he established to be used like an aquarium. He established them because of his love for hunting. Need I remind people that he was a big game hunter who wanted area’s preserved so that future generations could always have a possible chance to see the way that it was. That doesn’t mean that the ecosystem has to be controlled in any certain way. Just so it’s preserved.

    In my opinion, wolves are a bad idea since there is no control other than the hunting or sharpshooting for them, that is already proposed for the elk and you already have problems w/ it. Nothing is gained by introducing wolves that were not meant to be pinned in into an area like that. Interest in the park is gained by allowing extremely controlled “hunting” to cull the heard. There will be no prize elk allowed from what I have heard, and the hunter must pass a marksmanship test to hunt. This is not a get a tag and go thing like the NDGF has for deer. It’s very controlled. I totally agree w/ the setup, even if I don’t think highly of Mr. Dorgan. I think wolves would quickly get overpopulated in the small area, and you would have a worse problem w/ them and no option but to cull them like is being proposed for the elk. Folley, I think not. I’m sure it will work just fine.

  13. Dave – Do you agree with any hunting under any circumstances?

  14. Yeah, let’s introduce wolves once again to control a population. Look what has happened in the “Bitter Root Wilderness area” NO MORE ELK! The state wildlife agency has said, “The population is not longer self sustaining”. Last year there was only 1, yes 1, surviving calf to the herd. Wolves don’t look for the sick, they are an animal of opportunity. Hunting will NEVER go away as long as there are hunters!!!!!!

  15. If you knew anything about hunting; which obviously you don’t, you would know that hunters come in all shapes and sizes. Some hunters do focus primarily on the biggest and best of the heard, but, MANY others enjoy the meat of younger or smaller animals. Kids especially enjoy the sport and don’t have a pull to the largest animal in the herd; they find joy in the process, not the result.
    Conversely, you must be a real idiot if you think encouraging wolves to take care of the problem is a good idea. Where are you from anyway? Why don’t you spend a few moments with Ranchers or folks that live in these areas and ask them how they like the idea of introducing wolves to resolve this issue. Currently the herds of South Dakota are being decimated by Mountain Lion populations that have gotten out of control as a result of animal activists that are opposed to the management of these animals by Game Fish and Parks. Worse yet, Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana are all dealing with the overwhelming increase in the wolf populations that are wiping out the Elk herds and domestic herds.
    David, I would guess you are from the City; please stay there! Manage your own issues in the city, you may know something about those things but you clearly don’t know anything about what the folks in the country deal with; nor is it any of your business. We live here, we have to deal with our surroundings, we don’t need your help nor do we want it. Get a life!

  16. Ah, the uninformed know-it-all. Tim, please visit us again when you find a clue, or at least the ability to be civil while you look.

  17. So David, since Tim and I are from the country this makes us an uniformed know-it-all? And we don’t have a clue? Furthermore, while there is some contention in the tone of Tim’s post then this makes him uncivil during his discussion? Raising the tone whether in voice or in pen is hardly uncivilized!!! I’d like you to have met our great “Founding Fathers” or this country.
    Anyway, remember that Teddy Roosevelt was a avid hunter and the president that started the National Park System. Teddy is still the president we owe to the most land being set aside for conservation. Hunters and fisherman are the #1 conservationists! As long as there are hunters there will be natural beauty and wildlife even for the non hunters! To try to protest and legislate against my right to hunt is UNAMERICAN! But saying you can’t voice your opinion about this would be unamerican too! Just don’t try to take my freedom, that is what this country is about, freedom to say, do, think, and live the way we want not the way some else wants us to.

    My last statement; Animals don’t have rights like people, but we should treat them humainly but not as humans. If we use them for food this doesn’t make us uncivilized Neanderthals!

  18. Um, no, Cory; it isn’t because he is from the country (note I am speaking only about him since to my knowledge these are the first words I am addressing to you). It is because he labeled my views those of an idiot and then told me to stay in the city where he has decided I and all others who disagree with him are from. Btw, those city folk he disdains are the source of the large majority of tax dollars that support the National Park system you lionize. It just makes sense that they ought to have a say in how those parks are governed. In addition, last I checked, you and he are as welcome in cities as city folk are in the country. *That* is what America is about; we are all citizens of the same country, which is made up of all kinds of people in all kinds of places with all kinds of different opinions. It is also about respecting those differences while yet remaining able to disagree in a civil manner.

  19. David,
    Yes, I do agree with you that since this is America there is a melting pot of ideologies, races, etc. What I don’t agree with is that what was considered “common sense” even 40 years ago is now starting to shift to be the minority. There was a time when more people hunted for food in this country than didn’t. Now with the invention of a “veggie burger” we are “more civilized” and should all be like you. This is where any laws or judgments that do away with traditions shouldn’t be allowed. We have to many laws to say we have liberty. Freedom and Liberty are like Air and Fire, take away the air you can quench the fire but remember you need the air to breath. The same is true for our Freedoms. We don’t need interpretations of our constitution, we need to uphold it and take it at face value. We have set over 200 years of precedence now in this nation, we shouldn’t need any more practice on what it takes to have a free nation, only people who are willing to stand up and say, “Don’t Tread on Me!” My point is, don’t try to control other peoples lives or thoughts.

  20. Cory,
    Everyone should be like me? Please find me somewhere that I have ever demanded everyone be like me (or like anyone else for that matter). If there’s intolerance and treading on others’ right to think and say what they like, it’s not me doing it. I would note that this post was about managing a particular national park and you have extrapolated my views to be some sort of blanket societal statement about everything you abhor. Earlier, you called yourself a neanderthal and attributed that to me as well. I wonder why your views require a straw man villain. As for your idea that what was common sense 40 years ago is not so today — that was true forty years ago for what was true forty years before that too. Societies evolve. To try and stop that evolution would be to control other people’s lives and thoughts — something you claim to oppose. And regarding the Constitution, I’m not sure what a face-value non interpretation is. I get even more puzzled when you say that the version we have is built on precedent (interpretation) but that now we have enough. Was there some magic time when precedent stopped being relevant? That would seem pretty unamerican and counter to the system our Founders set up, no?

  21. Just one comment on David’s last post about societies evolving:

    Why is it that the evolution of a society is viewed as a positive attribute? We have madness in this country. With the onslaught of liberalism our society on country will soon be doomed. Common sense is something that never changes, your evolution is not we as a people coming to an enlightenment, it is an evil we as God fearing Americans must fight against. Everything in this world is either good or evil, black or white, right or wrong. We have a choice and it is up to the individual to make the correct choice. Life isn’t a free for all, you only get one chance to make the right decisions on what you believe and how you live your life, I only hope you do.

  22. David, I know this is old but I would like to point out that the park is split into 3 separate units which are far apart from one another. I have hiked all over that park and none of the units are large enough to support a wolf pack. Combined….perhaps, but as it sits no. I love wolves but at this point the options are hunting or government hunters and if done properly the herd can be managed through hunting while providing great sustenance.

  23. The way you write, you are really a professional blogger.:~,-’

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