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Contact: Bob Miller, (865) 436-1207
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is soliciting public comment on the Park's plans to transition the Park's management of its elk herd from an experiment to a long-term management strategy. Under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) the public has 30 days to provide comments before the National Park Service can make a decision.
According to Smokies Wildlife Biologist Kim Delozier, "Since we released the first elk into the Park in 2001 we have been gathering data to assess the long-term viability of elk in the Smokies, along with evaluating the impacts of elk on the Park's natural and cultural resources, and their interaction with humans both in the Park and on surrounding lands. Based upon the slow growth in numbers from 52 to about 135, including 25 new calves in 2010, we have concluded that a sustainable elk population over the long term is viable. The diseases of concern such as chronic wasting disease and brucellosis have not shown up and the problems that elk have posed to human activities - things like scraping fruit trees with their antlers and entering vegetable gardens are mostly minor."
The Environmental Assessment lays out two alternative strategies for how the Park would manage its elk over the long term. The NEPA process requires that a No-Action Alternative be considered. In this case that would mean continuing the very labor-intensive elk population management practices including radio collaring and replacing collars on all elk. It also includes Park staff continuing to respond to, or assisting with, all elk incidents in and out of the Park to include recapturing and relocating animals. These activities have been conducted throughout the eight year experimental phase of the Elk Program, but are currently not necessary to guide the day-to-day management in the future.
Under the Park's Preferred and Environmentally Preferred Alternative, termed the Adaptive Management Alternative, the collaring and tracking would be gradually scaled back to the point that only a sampling of the population would be tracked, primarily the adult females and all newborn calves. Response to incidents would be on a case-by-case basis with active response to elk issues outside the Park becoming the responsibility of the state or tribal game management agencies which manage other wildlife. Vegetation impacts would be selectively monitored to determine if the elk have a negative impact on plant communities of concern. Elk habitat improvement activities including prescribed fire, which creates grassy openings in the forest that help support elk and other wildlife, would be conducted as the opportunity arises.
This environmental assessment will be available for public review and comment for 30 days. The Park is inviting comments on the environmental assessment by mail at the address below, or on-line on the NPS' Planning web site at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm. The public can provide comments directly on the project site by clicking on "Comment on document" from the menu on the left. Commenters are advised that their addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or other personal identifying information in their comments, as well as the comments they post, or submit by mail, may be made publicly available at any time. Commenters may ask that their comments and identifying information be withheld from public release, but the National Park Service cannot guarantee that they will be able to do so.
COMMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY September 27, 2010. Written comments may be received later if postmarked by September 24, 2010. Please address written comments to:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738