A Canada National Park May Open to Bowhunting Elk for Herd Control
Bob McNally 06.01.17
Alberta, Canada’s Elk Island National Park has over 600 elk, and the popular spot east of Edmonton may open to bowhunters because it has too many wapiti.
Both north and south sections of the park are overpopulated, according to Parks Canada’s numbers, with the northern portion home to about 200 more elk than recommended.
“If (the population) is too high, and it is now, that can have a huge impact on the habitat,” Colleen Arnison, a resource management officer with the park, said.
The park’s forest and grasslands are being hurt by the booming herd, she said.
“That’s why we need to control them. Not removing them will have a larger impact overall on their health, especially in disease, which will be able to move through the population a lot quicker if we don’t manage them and keep them at a sustainable level.”
It’s not unusual for wildlife populations inside the park to climb above recommended levels. In the past, the park relocated elk to other protected areas to keep the herd healthy. That’s not an option this time, Arnison said, due to concerns about chronic wasting disease, a neurological condition similar to mad cow disease that has been moving east from Saskatchewan into Alberta.
Some deer in the area have contracted the disease, and that means officials can’t risk moving the park’s elk to other national parks.
Officials are considering a number of options, from having park staff hunt elk to working with regional indigenous groups to hunt the population. Meat from the hunt would be donated or sold. The park may also hold a public hunting program.
Another option is for the park to reinstall “jump rails,” special fences that elk, deer and moose can move freely across, but keep bison contained.
The park had jump rails installed from 1987-91, but they were removed after some bison escaped. The gates would need to be redesigned, something Arnison said would take longer than other options to complete.
Hunting programs in national parks are uncommon, but not unheard of. Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks, both in Newfoundland, have used hunting programs in recent years to manage moose populations.