Wildlife Management - Managing the Herds
Establishing a Carrying Capacity
The question of how many animals the plant communities can support has always been a challenging one. This “carrying capacity” must be carefully balanced to match the populations of animals to the capacity of the range so both the prairie and the animals stay healthy.
More Land, More Animals
In the late 1930’s and early 40’s, excess animals were driven into the Custer Recreational Demonstration Area, but the park size could not increase every time an animal was born. At times, the herds were reduced by slaughtering animals and giving the meat to local Indian Tribes.
Searching for Answers
In the 1950’s, the answer appeared to be herding excess bison and elk into Custer State Park. However, when many of the relocated bison tested positive for brucellosis, the state of South Dakota refused to accept any more. They did continue to help reduce the elk population. However, the culling technique used was “direct reduction” or shooting selected animals. A 1963 report states: There was good cooperation between State Park employees and this National Park, we believe this cooperative project will prevent the necessity of direct kill reduction of elk in Wind Cave for some years to come.
Still Looking for Answers
At the same time park managers at Wind Cave were using direct reduction to control herd size, so was Yellowstone National Park. This policy was opposed by the American public, and direct reduction to cull herds was halted in all National Parks.
Did You Know?
Fire is an important factor in protecting the prairie. Historically, fires burned across the prairie every 4 to 7 years. Fires burn the small trees that would otherwise march across the prairie and turn the grasslands to forest.