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Contact: Public Affairs, (865) 436-1208
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson announced today the approval of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) of the Environmental Assessment (EA) on a proposed plan for managing a permanent herd of elk in the Park. The approved plan, signed on October 20, 2011, by National Park Service Regional Director David Vela, culminates a 10-year effort to reestablish elk to their native range.
In June 2010, the Park published the EA outlining the findings of an 8-year experimental elk release (2001-2008). The purpose of the EA was to determine the most appropriate and feasible approach to manage the existing elk population, currently totaling around 140 animals. The primary objective under the Preferred Alternative of Adaptive Management is to maintain an elk population within the Park that is self sustaining and allows only acceptable impacts to Park resources. "By creating a framework of flexibility, Park managers can employ a variety of management strategies to deal with a range of behaviors with the goal of preventing 'unacceptable' conditions as described in the EA," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.
Research findings from the experimental elk release indicated that the elk population was sustainable, had minimal impacts on the Park's resources, and human-elk conflicts were manageable.
Monitoring of the elk herd will continue, however, these activities will be scaled back from efforts employed during the research phase. A portion of the elk population will continue to be fitted with radio-collars and tracked, primarily the adult females and all newborn calves. Vegetation will be monitored to determine if the elk have an unacceptable impact on native plant communities. In addition, the management plan transitions responsibility for elk management issues outside the Park to the appropriate tribal, state or federal agency with jurisdiction over wildlife on those lands. Park staff will continue to work cooperatively and provide guidance and training regarding elk management, where feasible, to any agency requesting support.
The Park received 67 comments from stakeholders, agencies, and the general public during the 30-day comment period. Of those, 47 fully supported the project, 19 comments had specific concerns with the some of the action items in the EA, and one commenter opposed the plan. The FONSI, with public comments and Park responses, is available for review on-line at the National Park Service's Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website: https://parkplanning.nps.gov or at the Park's website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/index.htm.