HOT SPRINGS, SD -
The elk population in the Black Hills has been nearly cut in half in the last 10 years. That also means fewer elk hunting licenses are being issued. Wind Cave National Park is bucking that trend, seeing its elk numbers boom, but that's causing other problems.
As big as they are, spotting an elk in the Black Hills can be tricky.
"Unlike elk you might see in Rocky Mountain National Park or Yellowstone, they're very elusive. And that's one of the reasons that has helped them elude hunters and other things," Greg Schroeder of Wind Cave National Park said.
Increased hunting in parts of the Hills has led to a dramatic decline in the number of elk. But at Wind Cave National Park where hunting is banned, a different elk problem is surfacing.
"Due to our forage that we had here, we want to have a herd somewhere between 230 and 450. And right now, we have over 1,000 elk, so we have more than twice the amount of elk that we would like to have here in Wind Cave," Schroeder said.
Three years ago, the park put an elk management plan into place to help control the population here. That included installing elk jump gates that allow the animals to pass in and out of the park during certain seasons. But that hasn't been getting the numbers down as quickly as the park needs them to be, so they're looking at other measures.
"We're going to plan to use helicopters to encourage the elk to leave here in the end of February or March and then get them to go out of the park and hopefully calve outside of the park. And hopefully, if some of these elk calves outside of the park, they're more likely to stay out there," Schroeder said.
It should be a win-win situation, helping to balance the park's ecosystem while refreshing the overall elk population of the Black Hills.
If the elk are stubborn and insist on sticking around Wind Cave, park staff will look at different ways to force the animals to leave. But if the numbers aren't down in two years, they may have to look at other options.
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