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Fergus guy has great plan [UPDATED]

Published 6:54am Friday, February 18, 2011 Updated 6:54am Monday, February 28, 2011

I always find it amazing to learn what people do for a living when they leave Fergus Falls.Take Mike Oehler for example.Mike is a wildlife biologist at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D., and has a pretty cool job.Mike’s current responsibilities include managing wildlife — from butterflies to bison — but the majority of his time is spent conducting research and managing bison, elk, feral horses and prairie dogs.Prior to working at Theordore Roosevelt National Park, he was a  game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department where he ran the mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep programs.I told you he had a cool job — but wait until you hear this. In December and January, Mike oversaw efforts to reduce the elk population in the national park Elk were once a native resident of the prairie lands in northwestern North Dakota but by the early 1980s their numbers were almost non-existant.It was then that the park was encouraged to re-introduce the elk. Have you ever heard the phrase “Be careful what you ask for?” This was a classic example.Forty-seven elk were introduced into the park in 1985, Oehler said. By 1993, the park’s elk population had reached numbers that made an elk reduction plan necessary. The same thing happened in 1999 and 2003, Oehler said.In 2010, the elk population grew to about 1,200 animals, so Oehler and his park crew set out on a multi-year effort to reduce the elk population to about 150 animals.Through a lottery system Oehler put together five teams of volunteers that went out into the cold and snowy fields in December and January. An amazing 5,200 applications were received from people in 46 states. Seventy-six percent of those applicants came from North Dakota and Minnesota, Oehler said.In all, 181 people made the cut and were put into the five teams. They spent 36 days in the field with their rifles reducing the herds numbers.By the end of January, 406 elk had been removed.The volunteers and their park service guides walked anywhere from one to 12 miles per day. They averaged 15 to 20 miles per week through snow drifts with some crazy-cold temperatures.The volunteers who shot the elk dressed the animals in the field and hauled about 29,000 pounds of meat from the field. That averaged about 160 pounds per volunteer, Oehler said. But most of the meat went to charity — about 13,000 pounds to food pantries and about 21,500 pounds to American Indian tribes, Oehler said.When the elk reduction project was done for the 2010-11 season, 90 percent of the volunteers said the effort was one of the best experiences of their lives, Oehler said.Officials have said if the plan works in North Dakota it could be a model for other national parks that have too many elk.Now that’s cool!
Jeff Hage is the managing editor of The Daily Journal. He can be reached by email at jeff.hage@fergusfallsjournal.com.

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