Abstract - Herd Organization and Movements of Elk in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Varland, Kenneth LaVerne. 1976. Herd Organization and Movements of Elk in Wind Cave Natoinal Park, South Dakota. MS Thesis. Iowa State University. 153 p.


Herd organization, movements, and distribution of elk at Wind Cave National Park were studied from June 1973 to February 1975, to aid in management of this nonmigratory population. Thirty-two elk were marked with either ear flags, colored collars, or radio collars. Six calves were captured by hand; the remaining 26 elk were marked by immobilizing them with succinylcholine chloride shot from a dart gun (20 adutl bulls in a baited corral trap, 4 adult cows and a 6-month-old female calf from a helicopter, and 1 free-ranging adult cow on the ground).

Marked elk were observed 713 times and located 113 times by telemetry. The fenced 114 sq km (44 square mile) park accommodated three relatively discrete cow-calf herds, with each herd using a distinct area of the park. The largest, about 170 elk, occupied the northwestern 20.7 sq km (8 square miles) (Beaver Creek region) and did not intermingle with about 90 elk occupying 25.9 sq km (10 square miles) to the east (Boland Ridge region) although their ranges overlapped slightly. About 40 elk occupying the southwestern 11.7 sq km (4.5 square miles) (Gobbler Knob region) occasionally intermingled with the largest herd for brief periods in January and February 1974, and a few crossed the west fence to spend spring, summer, and early fall of 1974 in a 18.1 sq km (7 square mile) area of the Black Hills National Forest. Within each herd, cow-calf groupings each changed in individual composition with time. Movements of marked bulls were variable, but most remained in the northwestern protion of the park close to the trap site. Individual bulls interchanged freely between small groups of bulls from one day to the next. From limited evidence, it seems likely that the bull population is also divided into three discrete herds.

Cows and calves used the following areas most intensively: west of Red Valley in the wooded region adjacent to Highland Creek in the southeastern portion of the park; on the east of Boland Ridge; the areas in, adjacent to, and between Sanctuary and Research Reserve prairie dog towns; and areas adjacent to and including Cold Brook Canyon in the southwestern corner of the park. Bulls were seen most often in the northern half of the park.

Elk were observed most readily during the hours closest to sunrise and sunset. They generally fed in grassland areas and bedded in wooded areas. Elk usually avoided use of steep sloped in all seasons. East- and south-facing slopes were used more than west- and north-facing slopes during most of the year.

Each herd should be managed individually to prevent an overuse of the range in any one area of the park. Information from this study was used in elk trapping operations during January 1976 and 1977. Elk numbers in the Gobbler Knob region have been declining recent years because of hunting outside the park and it was unnecessary to trap elk from this region. Reduction quotas were set for the Boland Ridge and Beaver Creek cow-calf herds; no more than the stated quota could be taken from each herd. Although 319 elk were removed from the population in 1976 and 1977, the quota for either herd was never exceeded.

If needed in the future, suggested locations for an additional trap to capture cows and calves from the Beaver Creek and Gobbler Knob regions were discussed. Adult bulls from the Beaver Creek region can be captured by baiting them into the present trap, but additional traps would be needed to capture bulls from the Boland Ridge or Gobbler Knob regions.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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