In June of 2010, the Great Smoky Mountains published an Environmental Assessment (EA) outlining the findings of the 8-year experimental elk release (2001-2008), and to determine the most appropriate and feasible approach for permanent management of elk in the park. Late last week the park announced (PDF) that their "Preferred Alternative" would have no significant impact on the environment, public health, public safety, threatened or endangered species, historical sites, or any other areas of the park that offer unique characteristics of the region.
The 8-year experimental elk release proved that a sustainable elk population has been established in the Smokies. The only question that remained for park officials was how to manage the herd on a long-term basis.
As part of their "Preferred Alternative" for managing the herd, the park has established three goals:
1) GSMNP will maintain a healthy elk population that is managed within the capabilities of GSMNP and in consideration of other land uses within the park.
2) GSMNP will identify, monitor, and mitigate when necessary impacts of elk and the elk population on vegetation or other natural or cultural resources.
3) GSMNP will maintain safe viewing opportunities of elk, while educating the public regarding their natural history and biology.
The latest Elk Progress Report, from July 2011, reports that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding land is currently home to approximately 140 elk. During the 2011 calving season, 19 calves were born (so far, at that point), 16 of which have survived.
Thanks to the National Parks Traveler for pointing this report out.
Update: here's a press release the park issued this afternoon.