Resource Ramblings 2007-04

Wildlife Management in Wind Cave National Park

Management of a national park provides the opportunity to deal with some of the most complex and challenging issues. Most national parks, when designated, already had resources that were altered by human activity. As a result, many lands that came into National Park management had to undergo extensive restoration. Many of these efforts were highly successful in restoring natural environments, but because of management, political, social, or other influences, the ecology of many parks has not been brought back fully. A prime example of this limitation is the restoration of predators to manage wildlife populations, in particular ungulates such as deer and elk. The National Park Service has taken a number of approaches to wildlife management. In the early years of many national parks, managers openly killed predators to encourage other species to survive. Through scientific study and a greater understanding of how ecosystems function the National Park Service realized the key role that predators played in the over all health of park ecosystems.

Where predators have not been restored to the ecosystem, an imbalance remains that if not checked, will allow certain species to grow in number and create undue impacts on other resources. In situations where predators have not been replaced, for whatever reason, other mechanisms must be found to control wildlife populations to minimize impacts they may cause to other resources. For example, in Wind Cave National Park the wintering elk population may double in size from the summer months. This increase of animals, with little pressure from predators, places a tremendous strain on the ability of the park resources to sustain not only the elk, but also other species that rely on the same resources.

Hunting has been used by state wildlife management agencies as the principle tool for controlling large game species. The National Park Service has maintained from its inception a policy of not allowing hunting in national parks, except where specifically authorized. Hunting has been viewed as contrary to the Park Service philosophy of preserving, protecting and providing visitor opportunities to see natural conditions. The Park Service has consistently refrained from the destruction of animals for recreational purposes.

Enabling legislation creating Wind Cave National Park was signed in 1903; in 1908 general rules and regulations were established which specifically stated “Hunting or killing, wounding or capturing any bird or wild animal on the park lands… is prohibited”. In 1912, Wind Cave National Game Preserve was established within the current park boundaries specifically “for a permanent national range for a herd of buffalo”. When the national game preserve was abolished in 1935 and authority over those lands was transferred to Wind Cave National Park, these lands were subject “to all laws and regulations applicable” to the park (49 Stat. 383, USC 141b). As hunting within the park was not addressed in its enabling legislation, it has never been considered a legal activity.

As stated in National Park Services Management Policies 2006, “Whenever the Service removes native plants or animals, manages plant or animal populations to reduce their sizes, or allows others to remove plants or animals for an authorized purpose, the Service will seek to ensure that such removals will not cause unacceptable impacts on native resources, natural process, or other park resources. Whenever the Service identifies a possible need for reducing the size of a park plant or animal population, the Service will use scientifically valid resource information obtained through consultation with technical experts, literature review, inventory, monitoring, or research to evaluate the identified need for population management; the Service will document it in the appropriate park management plan.

“Where the need to reduce animal populations may be due to persistent human/animal conflicts, the Service will determine whether or not it can eliminate or mitigate the conflicts by modifying or curtailing the conflicting visitor use or other human activities. Where visitor use or other human activities cannot be modified or curtailed, the Service may directly reduce the animal population by using several animal population management techniques, either separately or together. These techniques include relocation, public hunting on lands outside a park or where legislatively authorized by a park, habitat management predator restoration, reproductive intervention, and destruction of animals by NPS personnel or their authorized agents. Where animal populations are reduced, destroyed animals may be left in natural areas of the park to decompose unless there are human safety concerns regarding attraction of potentially harmful scavengers to populated sites or trails or other human health and sanitary concerns associated with decomposition. Live animals or carcasses may be removed from parks according to the provisions of applicable laws, agreements, and regulations, including the granting of preference to Native Americans.” (Management Policies 2006,

From this, we see that the National Park Service recognizes the responsibility to manage wildlife populations, but leaves the actual methods of management to the park. Methods chosen must be in accord with the mission of the Service and must consider the impacts to park resources, both cultural and natural. In addition, each park must consider how management actions would affect their ability to provide for the enjoyment of the park by the public, both those visiting the park and those that experience the park from a distance.

The park management responsibility dictates that all resources are protected from unacceptable impacts. Management Policies 2006 states, “Whenever possible, natural processes will be relied upon to maintain native plant and animal species.” (Management Policies 2006, 4.4.2) However, some situations dictate management intervention. At those times, our responsibility is to utilize the methods legally available to protect, preserve and keep the park resources unimpaired for future generations.

Comments and feedback about Resource Ramblings are encouraged and should be directed to Dan Foster, in person, or via email.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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