The exposed layers of the Badlands are the result of many environmental factors. Some of these are direct, such as the ancient ecosystems of swamps and rivers deltas or the current Little Missouri River. Others are indirect, like distant volcanoes which formed the Rocky Mountains or glaciations altering river courses north of present-day park land.
Today, constant winds and sporadic, torrential rain storms continue to alter the Badlands. Erosion causes land to shift and move, making road and building maintenance a constant challenge in the park. Prairie fires ignite underground coal seams, baking the surrounding rock into the erosion-resistant red-orange clinker.
Perhaps our most significant environmental factor is humankind. Western North Dakota is in the midst of a massive oil boom, bringing rapid growth and development to the region. Increased development brings light pollution, affecting the dark skies of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As park staff assesses the ramifications of these impacts, we are challenged to question how this growth affects our relationship with ecosystems, both local and global.