Efforts continue to address the prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease in the Wind Cave National Park elk herd.

According to two press releases from the park, two initiatives are underway - one a research endeavor while the other focuses on population control.

Current estimates indicate there are around 260 elk located in the park. Long term management plans call for a population of 232-475. However, incidences of CWD continue to impact the overall health of the herd.

In order to learn more about CWD inside the park’s borders, 24 elk were recently captured and fitted with GPS radio collars. The study, which is being conducted by a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, is in its second year.

The collars record the location of the elk every seven hours, and on a rotating basis, several elk each day will have their locations recorded every 15 minutes. 

The goal of the study is to determine whether or not it is possible to reduce the overall prevelance of CWD by reducing the herd’s density.

“We appreciate our partnership with the USGS and how they are helping us learn more about this disease,” said Park Superintendent Vidal Dávila.  “These collars and the information they provide will allow us to study the elk that are living inside the park and learn more about their movements and habits.” 

While the study is ongoing, the park has already implemented a culling program. Last year, 262 elk were removed from the herd. Those animals were tested for CWD, and the resulting data indicated a prevalence rate of 13.9 percent, a park press release said.

The National Park Service, along with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks will carry out another reduction in herd in 2018, as the agency’s believe that limiting herd size may decrease prevalence rates.

“We were very pleased with the partnership and support we received from GFP on this project, and we look forward to working with our partners again this year to improve the health of our herd,” Dávila said. “The study will inform wildlife managers throughout our agency and the State for the long-term health of the species.”

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In order to carry out the culling effort, the park is seeking eight volunteers who must be skilled marksmen and physically fit.

Four different volunteers will be needed each of the two weeks of this operation beginning Feb. 5. Two teams will be formed, each consisting of an NPS team leader and two volunteers. Anyone wishing to volunteer must submit an online application through GFP website at: https://apps.sd.gov/gf79license/login.aspx.

A lottery, similar to those conducted for elk permits, will be conducted. Applications will be accepted from Jan. 3-10, 2018. Only online applications will be accepted. Applicants need to be over 18 years of age, a South Dakota resident, not have a felony record, and be willing to undergo a background check.

On their first day, volunteers will be required to demonstrate advanced firearms proficiency and physical fitness to participate. This will include shooting a minimum of three out of five shots into an eight-inch circle at 200 yards using their own firearm and non-lead ammunition. During the week, volunteers will be required to hike up to 10 miles over rough terrain and carry packs up to 70 pounds in winter weather conditions.

Every animal taken during the culling effort will be tested for CWD, and all of the meat that does not test positive for the disease will be donated to Feeding South Dakota to be distributed to families in need. Volunteers who work an entire week on the project will also be eligible to receive elk meat.

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