Ten years after the first elk touched down in Cataloochee Valley, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has made the reintroduction of the species official. Until now, the herd of 140 elk in the Smokies were considered merely an “experimental release,” not a formal reintroduction.
The park has made the announcement following an environmental assessment and analysis of the herd, which found that the elk had no detrimental impacts. As part of the analysis, the Smokies crafted a long-term management plan for the herd.
The primary objective is to maintain an elk population 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,” Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said.
Research findings from the experimental elk release indicated that the elk population was sustainable, had minimal impacts on the park’s resources and that human-elk conflicts were manageable.
Monitoring of the elk herd will continue. However, these activities will be scaled back. A portion of the elk population will be fitted with radio-collars and tracked, primarily the adult females and all newborn calves, and vegetation will be monitored to see if the elk are too damaging to native plants. In addition, the management plan transitions responsibility for elk management issues outside park boundaries to the appropriate tribal, state or federal agency.
View the plan at: www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/index.htm.