Elk in Wind Cave National Park are collared - KOTA Territory News

Wind Cave National Park efforts reduction of bloated elk herd

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While the elk population in the rest of the Black Hills has seemingly diminished; there is one place the elk population has nearly doubled over the past 10 years: Wind Cave National Park.

It's the final year of a three year project to attach a GPS device to each of the 76 elk that live in the park.

And biologists say it's the last step before the big push.

"Our plan is to push most of the animals north into Custer State Park," said Duane Weber, A Biological Science Technician with Custer State Park.

Weber says the reason for 'the push' - too many animals call Wind Cave National Park home.

"We have roughly twice the number of elk we should have - so need to cut that population in half," said Weber.

And before they push the elk out in the next few months, Weber says they are in the process of equipping the final 36 elk with a GPS device to monitor their movements.

"The big question is will these animals after they discover they can't return to the park, will they disseminate into the surrounding forest and Custer State Park, or will they be so strongly pulled to their home territories that they'll just hover around the fence," said Weber.

It's a two day process to equip the elk with a collar.

First a helicopter crew hovers over the park, rounding up the elk with a net.

"The net flies over the top of the elk and tangles the elk and trips them to the ground," said Weber.

Then a two man crew ties their feet together, blind fold them, and attach a collar.

"They also take a blood sample and check whether or not the elk is healthy. The whole process takes about 5-7 minutes. Then the elk is released," said Weber.

Afterwards the elk are pushed out of the park.

"We just want to monitor how the push goes and for the next two years after the push, then we'll see if we have to adjust our management plan and figure out what we need to do from there," said Weber.

In two years the crew will stop monitoring the elk. Weber says retrieving the collars is a simple process. He just sends a signal to the collar, it unlocks itself and falls off the elk. And he just uses the GPS signal to know where to collect them.

While there is no plan in place after those two years, park workers modified the boundary fence by raising the height of the fence in sections.

The hope is the taller fence will prevent the elk from returning to Wind Cave National Park and keep them available to hunter harvest on lands beyond the park boundaries.

 

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