Wind Cave National Park and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Seek Volunteers to Reduce Elk Population in the Park

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NPS Photo: Elk in Wind Cave National Park

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, SD– The National Park Service (NPS), working with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), will use skilled volunteers to reduce its elk herd at Wind Cave National Park (Wind Cave) to help address the high rate of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the park. Beginning in mid-November, trained volunteers selected through a lottery system managed by GFP will work with NPS staff to reduce the number of elk inside the park.

Volunteers will be selected by lottery through the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, and will be trained by park staff.

The elk management plan for Wind Cave has a targeted population objective of 232 to 475 elk. Current population estimates indicate numbers of around 550 elk in the park. A recently released report by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates the CWD prevalence rate in the park’s elk herd is around 9.5 percent, which is higher than previously understood. Scientists seek to determine if this increased prevalence is linked to the higher density of elk in the park. It is believed that by reducing the elk population within the boundary of the park, it will also reduce the prevalence of CWD. The effectiveness of this management action will be evaluated over the next several years to coincide with the lifespan of the disease in elk. This action is consistent with the range of options presented in the Wind Cave Elk Management Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement signed in 2009.

“Our scientists believe the density of the park’s elk population and CWD are related,” Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Dávila said. “We will be following the herd’s health over the next several years to determine if the reduced density of elk lowers the prevalence of CWD in the park. Every animal taken during this operation will be tested for CWD.”

The NPS is partnering with GFP to distribute meat with a “non-detected” finding for CWD to Feeding South Dakota, an organization dedicated to eliminating hunger in the state, to be distributed. Also, volunteers who work an entire week on this operation will be eligible to receive some of the elk meat. Only meat with a ‘not-detected’ test result for CWD will be distributed.

Four different volunteers will be needed each week for this operation. Each day two teams will be formed: consisting of an NPS team leader and 2 volunteers. Anyone wishing to volunteer should submit an online application through GFP website at:https://apps.sd.gov/gf79license/login.aspx. A lottery, similar to those conducted for elk permits, will be conducted.  Applications will be accepted from September 14, 2016 to September 28, 2016 at 8 am CDT.  Only online applications will be accepted.  No paper applications will be allowed. Applicants need to be over 18 years of age, a South Dakota resident, not have a felony record, and be willing to undergo a background check. Applications will be accepted only through the online process.

On their first day, volunteers will be required to demonstrate advanced firearms proficiency and physical fitness to participate. This will include shooting a minimum of 3 out of 5 shots into an 8-inch circle at 200 yards using their own firearm and non-lead ammunition. During the week, volunteers will be required to hike up to 10-miles over rough terrain and carry packs up to 70lbs. The operation is expected to continue through February.

“As people fill out the application, they have to understand that this is difficult work that includes several hard days in the field under strenuous hiking and weather conditions,” said Dávila. 

For more information visit nps.gov/wica/learn/nature/elk-cervus-elaphus.htm

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