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JACKSON - The National Elk Refuge will release additional elk permits for both the north and south units through the end of the refuge elk hunting season on Dec. 5.

Refuge manager Steve Kallin made the decision to issue the extra alternate permits because many elk have avoided the refuge so far this hunting season resulting in decreased harvest.

About 855 elk were counted on the refuge early last week, compared to 1,653 elk during the same week in 2007.

Officials say elk have access to more forage on surrounding summer ranges this year than years past.

On the National Elk Refuge forage production was 30 percent higher this year compared to 2007. More forage likely remains in Grand Teton National Park this year, resulting in a later migration of elk from the park.

The limited numbers of elk on the refuge isn't all bad news. Refuge managers hope to preserve forage on the south end of the refuge to delay the onset of supplemental feeding, which researchers say exacerbates the spread of diseases like brucellosis.

"The hunters we've had in the field have been very effective in keeping elk off the south unit for long periods of time," Kallin said. "It's helped us meet an important objective of conserving forage for the critical winter months."

Hunters interested in obtaining an alternate elk permit for either the north or south unit should periodically check the online system for availability.

To check for availability or to apply for National Elk Refuge North or South Unit elk hunting permits, visit the refuge's Web site at www.fws.gov/

nationalelkrefuge and click on the link to apply for elk hunting permits.

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