The park’s elk herd is a major tourist attraction, but has become an ecological problem. The elks are not originally native to the park. They were probably transplanted there from a herd in Wyoming in the early 20th century. The animals can grow to a fairly large size, up to 700 pounds, and feed on fragile native plant species like aspen and willow.
The elk herd has already wiped out several stands of aspen and willow. According to park officials, a sustainable elk population would be about 1,600 to 2,100 animals. The current herd is close to 3,000 animals. The plan proposed by park officials involves shooting between 100 and 200 of the animals per year starting in 2009.
Officials were quick to point out that they would not kill the animals unnecessarily. They will be basing their culling numbers on the scientific data each year, rather than implementing a plan now and following it every year. There will be some years they might not even cull the animals. Recently, for instance, herd numbers have dropped slightly as hunters outside the park shot as many as 700 of the animals.
National park officials will not only use lethal force to help limit the damage the population inflicts. They’ll also take measures such as fencing off more new growth forest, as well as trying to herd the elk away from vulnerable areas by shooting them with non-lethal ammo. They will also experiment with birth control on the park’s herd. The park plans to cull the animals in as natural a manner as possible. They’ll do the vast majority of the shooting in the winter and target the old, weak, and sick. They’ll try to mimic the behaviour of wolves.