BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, SD – Today with 50 people watching, the first snowstorm of the fall laying a blanket of wind-driven snow across the South Dakota prairie, four 2,000 pound bison bulls bolted from the back of a horse trailer onto ground that bison have not roamed since the 1870’s. By returning bison to this landscape and expanding the current bison range, the National Park Service is finally realizing a long planned effort that will contribute to the health and genetic integrity of the herd and continued health of the prairie in the North Unit of Badlands National Park.
Though the snow, ice and significant South Dakota wind limited the participation of people at a planned ceremony held today at the Pinnacles Overlook just south of Wall, SD, the bison were unconcerned by the weather during their release onto the grounds of their ancestors. The last wild bison in South Dakota was in 1877. “Badlands National Park has had bison on the landscape since 1963, but their range has been limited for most of that time,” Superintendent Mike Pflaum remarked. “The National Park Service has been striving to expand the range for the bison grazing area for many years. This project would not have been possible without an important land exchange effected by The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service working with the Don Kelly family in 2014, and the generous contributions of several key park partners and their supporters and the National Park Service Centennial Challenge fund.”
Badlands National Park’s bison herd numbers around 1,200 currently, but very few visitors ever saw them because of how remote their range was. By expanding the range to areas where more people are already visiting, they will also have more opportunities for viewing, photographing, and learning about bison in their native habitat on this iconic landscape. “The story of the American bison will continue to be part of Badlands National Park’s story for generations to come,” Pflaum said.
The addition of 43 miles of new fence along with 3 cattle guards expanding the bison grazing area by over 22,000 acres to 80,193 total acres, or 125 square miles, was made possible due to several key park partners and their supporters. The National Park Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, supported by Badlands Natural History Association and the Badlands National Park Conservancy, donated over $743,000 and the National Park Service Centennial Challenge fund contributed $475,000.