I know I've polemicized a bit when it comes to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park elk management thing from the start. Maybe I'm a crabby, sore loser.
I have to say as I've watched the plan in action for a few weeks now, I'm starting to see some of the greater wisdom and the positive outcomes I had not conceived of before.
To date, the program has been a raging success, and the elk population has been reduced by 200 with over a month left to go. At the current rate, the elk reduction will exceed the loftiest goal the park had set of 275. The action has been executed safely for the people and pack animals involved, it has surpassed management goals so far, and has had apparently no noticeable impact on other park users.
The only comment I've gotten from a visitor was in favor of the plan. "I'm so glad the park is handling it this way," he said. From the get-go, I had been concerned that visitors wanting to use the park traditionally, for hiking, snowshoeing, camping, etc., would be adversely impacted, but to date, I have not gotten any complaints. Not one. Not even a whimper. And I had imagined picketers outside the visitor center. But I guess that's the benefit of a park that few adventurers come to visit in the winter season.
So what works about the elk plan?
First, the elk plan provides for several jobs in a national economy that is still struggling. Some of them are job types that have never existed before. The people that do these jobs are extraordinarily hardworking people. I really admire their ability to go outside in the North Dakota wintertime and do much harder work than I do on an average workday. They set out early in the morning, don't come back until evening, and they're doing it in the freezing cold, the blinding snow, the wind, the sun, through brush, and over hill and dale in the badlands. Theodore Roosevelt would be proud of these guys who work hard, don't complain, and get the job done.
Second, the plan allows for public involvement in an action not normally open to the public. While it is true that only a very small number of the interested people will ever get the chance to participate as volunteers for the program, it does allow the public to retain a sense of ownership in their national park. The volunteers were selected at random, so it's as democratic as it can be. It is not an opportunity that is for sale, or for some privileged class alone.
Third, the influx of jobs and volunteers helps sustain the town of Medora in a time of year that is otherwise very lean. Extra people in the community, and a good chunk of them rotating out every week and being replaced, means more money being spent in hotels, restaurants, and shops. It works in theory, anyway. I don't know if the actual impact is knowable.
Years ago, in the planning process, Senator Byron Dorgan opined that the park involve the public in the elk reduction. In an indirect way, Dorgan can take credit for creating jobs, bringing in new money into Medora, and completing the management goals of the park. Pretty smooth, eh? I guess you don't become a U.S. Senator by accident.
Here's hoping for continued success.