HARRISON – The National Park Service and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are seeking public input for an Elk Management Plan that would address resource issues associated with an increasing population of reintroduced elk throughout the Buffalo National River region. Two public meetings are scheduled this month: Tuesday, March 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Ponca Elk Education Center and Wednesday, March 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Carroll Electric Cooperative Building in Jasper. These meetings will be open-house style, so citizens are encouraged to drop in at their convenience to review proposed actions and provide feedback.
Between 1981 and 1985, AGFC, in cooperation with private citizens of Newton County, initiated an elk restoration project. This project resulted in the release of 112 Rocky Mountain Elk in Newton County near Buffalo National River. These elk were the closest living relatives to the now extinct Eastern Elk which was native to the region. These introductions became the nucleus of the Arkansas elk population. By 1998, AGFC began managing elk populations through a hunting program. AGFC has continued offering permits to hunt elk on both public and private land since then. Even with regulated hunting, the population continues to climb.
Particularly in Boxley Valley, elk have caused some damage to private fields, gardens, orchards, and properties. Because elk hunting is not allowed in Boxley Valley and elk predators such as wolves and mountain lions are absent or in negligible numbers in the region, the elk population has the potential to exceed the ecological and sociological carrying capacity of the site. Aerial survey data since 1991 indicate that the Boxley herd increases by approximately seven animals each year.
The purpose of the proposed Elk Management Plan is to reduce and maintain elk population density throughout Buffalo National River and, in particular, the Boxley Valley area such that it is compatible with long-term protection of other park resources. The plan would minimize negative impacts from elk on private lands, reduce elk-landowner conflicts, reduce highway congestion resulting from elk viewing, and reduce the prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease.
The public review and comment period for the Buffalo National River Elk Management Plan will be open until April 1, 2019, at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/.