Helicopters used to move elk
Published: Thursday, March 7th, 2013
Wind Cave National Park is now 200 elk lighter after an operation to facilitate movement dispersed some of the park’s burgeoning elk population out of the park.
State wildlife officials directing two helicopter crews shooed the elk out of three different areas of the park in an operation that saw the helicopter crews flying as low as 15-20 feet to chase the deer out of the park. The operation was a joint state and federal project, paid for and run by the state.
John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for Game, Fish & Parks Department in Rapid City, said fence was taken down between Custer State Park and Wind Cave, and what are known as “jump gates”—gates that can be lowered to four feet so elk can jump over them—were lowered, so elk could be forced out at those openings.
“Then we close the fence behind them and lock them out, so to speak,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
This was the first time elk have been herded in such a manner, although similar techniques are used to survey and capture elk. In fact, the crews and helicopters were already in the area doing an elk survey.
The goal was to push 400-500 elk out of the park, including 100 out of the southwest corner, 100-200 out of the northwest corner, and 200-300 out of the northeast corner. However, only 200 were coaxed out of the park, although more might be pushed out this week. The primary objective behind the operation, Kanta said, is to solve two problems—Wind Cave’s overpopulation of elk and neighboring Custer State Park’s decreasing population.
Wind Cave officials sought to reduce the park’s herd from around 950 elk down to somewhere under 500. From there, numbers will be adjusted depending on moisture and forage.
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