By the 1960’s, American attitudes towards wildlife and natural areas began to change. New methods of controlling populations of large mammals came into use. Managers of national parks began to focus on the parks as a whole, and began to manage to include all native forms of animal and plant life.
Changing Our Ways
Predators are viewed as an important part of the natural system and programs to eliminate them stopped. Biologists around the country began to re-establish predator populations in wild areas.
Researchers began investigating the intricate connections of the small mammals and the ecosystems. In the 1970’s Dr. John Hoogland began a project to understand prairie dogs in Wind Cave National Park. He found that these animals, once considered varmints, are actually keystone species in the prairie ecosystem. Today, the prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and many other animals that depend on the prairie are better understood. Their roles in the park ecosystems continue to be researched. Unlike past practices, animals are not labeled good or bad - their role in the park is carefully evaluated before control measures are taken.
Today, the balance between herd size and plant communities is continually monitored. Excess bison and elk are rounded-up; tested for diseases; and, when possible, live shipped to Indian Reservations and other parks and refuges.
Wind Cave National Park's tradition of reintroducing and protecting native wildlife and the land that supports them continues today. Between July 4 and November 5, 2007, forty-nine black-footed ferrets, one of North America's rarest mammals, and a predator, were reintroduced. In November 2010, another twelve black-footed ferrets were released. These elusive predators are once again a resident of the park's prairie dog towns where they play an essential role in helping restore balance to the ecosystem.
For more information about the return of the wildlife to Wind Cave National Park select from the listings below: