Elk Management Plan Approved for Wind Cave National Park

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Date: December 5, 2009
Contact: Tom Farrell, 605-745-4600

Elk Management Plan Approved for Wind Cave National Park


WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, S.D. – Wind Cave National Park will use hunting of elk on public and private lands outside the park to reduce and maintain the park’s elk population. Ernest Quintana, Regional Director for the Midwest Region of the National Park Service, recently signed the Record of Decision for the Final Elk Management Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement.


The plan is designed to reduce and then maintain the park’s elk herd at a target population goal based primarily on a forage allocation model. Currently, the winter elk population numbers are approximately 750 animals. Under the plan, the population within the park would be managed between 232 to 475 elk. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks would administer the hunt outside the park as part of their regularly scheduled elk season and issue all hunting permits and retain all fees.


If the hunting success rates outside the park are not high enough to reduce and or maintain the elk population within the park, the plan calls for an adaptive management approach and the use of other alternatives studied under the plan. These include the use of roundups and shipping live elk to a processing plant or the euthanasia of the elk, or the use of sharpshooters within the park.


“This plan represents a partnership with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to manage elk population levels that will be in better balance with other park resources,” said Vidal Davila, park superintendent. “The adaptive management policy will provide a strategy for incorporating new information from monitoring and research conducted over the next 15 to 20 years.”


Approximately a third of the elk using the park during the winter leave the park during the spring and return in late summer or early fall. Elk move in and out of the park across 4.5 miles of four-foot high fence designed to retain historic elk movement patterns. Under the new plan, the height of the fence would be raised to seven feet. Gates would be installed that could be opened and closed to allow elk to naturally leave the park but would block their return until after the state managed elk hunting season.


Construction of the 4.5 miles of seven-foot fence needed to implement the plan could begin as early as 2010 depending on funding. It is expected to take two to three years after the completion of the fence to reduce the population numbers to the plan’s target range.


Work on the plan began in 2004 and included two rounds of public input with meetings across the state to talk with interested parties. To review a copy of the plan on-line, visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/wica and click on the link for “Wind Cave Elk Management Plan.”

Last updated: October 20, 2018

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