Elk herd in national park in ND thinned by 69

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MEDORA, N.D. (AP) -- The National Park Service killed 69 elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park this fall as part of an ongoing effort to keep the herd at a manageable level.

More than 5 tons of meat is being donated to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, which helps fill food pantries around North Dakota, Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said in a statement. Since 2010, about 45 tons has been donated to charity and to American Indian tribes.

The park in the western Badlands is in the maintenance phase of an elk management plan that included large reduction efforts in 2010 and 2011 in which nearly 900 elk were killed. The herd had grown to more than 1,200 animals, when the ideal size for the park is between 100 and 400.

Those special managed hunts involved volunteer shooters, and they drew applications from around the country. This year's smaller effort, which came after a September study indicated that between 215 and 300 elk lived in the park's South Unit, was handled by Park Service staff.

"The elk removal effort was successful again this year," Naylor said. "The National Park Service team is to be commended for doing an exceptional job of completing this year's project without injuries and with minimal impact to park visitors."

The backcountry in the park's South Unit is now open to visitors at all times. It had been closed three days per week during the elk reduction effort Oct. 30 to Dec. 6.