South Dakota Air National Guard Assists Badlands in Wilderness Cleanup
Contact: Julie Johndreau, (605) 433-5242
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, S.D. — Concluding a nearly 20-year project to remove several miles of non-historic ranch fencing from the 64,000-acre Badlands Wilderness Area, Badlands National Park partnered with the South Dakota Air National Guard to air-lift 106,000 pounds of fencing materials from the area during the week of August 10. Using two helicopters and three 4 x 8 foot Heli-Baskets, a group of 71 participants, including 14 volunteers from Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA in Massachusetts and 12 National Guard crew members, removed 53 loads of fencing materials, consisting of wooden and steel fence posts and rolls of barbed and woven wire.
Non-historic ranch fencing from past inholdings within the Badlands Wilderness Area has been an intrusion into the park backcountry (Wilderness since designation in 1976), since the park purchased the ranches decades ago. The fencing that remained after the purchase was an obstacle and hazard to bison, which frequently became entrapped in the wire fencing, and an eyesore for visitors. In the 1990’s, various volunteer organizations with some park staff began dismantling miles of fencing, located in the remote interior of the Wilderness Area, and piling it for later removal. The last few miles of fenceline was dismantled in 2001, when a 12-person volunteer crew from the American Hiking Society and park staff removed old ranch fencing from a former homestead.
Park staff and crews worked throughout the summer to GPS 28 fence post piles to gauge their exact locations for removal. In addition, three paired sets of research exclosures (30 m x 30 m), constructed in the early 1990’s to examine bison grazing and prairie dog impacts to the ecosystem, were dismantled. The additional fencing materials from the exclosures were placed in piles as well.
For three days, the South Dakota Air National Guard helicopters rotated the pick-up and drop-off of the Heli-Baskets, as park staff and volunteers loaded and unloaded the materials, first in the Heli-Baskets and then onto pickup trucks. A total of 33,640 pounds of steel post, barbed wire, and tin were recycled, bringing in $1,863. Twenty-two rolls of woven wire (100 feet each) were donated to the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority (OSPRA) and 950 solid wooden posts will be excessed.
Partnering with the South Dakota Air National Guard proved beneficial for both parties involved and a tremendous cost savings for the park. Crew members logged 20.8 flight hours on the project. The cost per flight was $5,000 or a total of $104,000. Pilot Mike Reindl said the opportunity was a “good training mission using the Heli-Baskets with the long lines; we don’t get that many opportunities to do that kind of mission. All the crews said it was very worthwhile and challenging.” A total of $6,300 in volunteer funding for the project was received through the 2008 Volunteer National Special Project Funding Request.
Other alternatives were considered, but due to the distance from access points and difficult terrain, the easiest, least intrusive means of removal was by helicopter, the tool with the least impact to remove the 106,000 pounds of materials from the Wilderness Area.
Did You Know?
Four species of wildlife have been reintroduced into the Badlands since its establishment as a National Monument in 1939. The black-footed ferret, bighorn sheep, bison, and swift fox, once exterminated from the area's mixed grass prairie, are again thriving in their native habitat.