News Release

Wind Cave National Park and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Seek Volunteers Reduce Elk Population in the Park

A herd of elk on top of a grassy ridge
Wind Cave National Park is seeking 8 trained volunteers this February to help reduce the number of elk in the park.

NPS Photo

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News Release Date: December 18, 2017

Contact: Tom Farrell, 605-745-1130

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, SD-- The National Park Service (NPS), working with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), is again seeking skilled volunteers to reduce its elk herd at Wind Cave National Park (Wind Cave) to help address the high rate of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the park. A total of eight trained volunteers will be needed, four each week for the first two weeks in February. The volunteers will be selected through a lottery system managed by GFP and after qualifying will work with NPS staff to reduce the number of elk inside the park. 

Current population estimates indicate numbers of around 260 elk in the park. The long-term elk management plan for Wind Cave has a targeted population objective of 232 to 475 elk. Data collected from last year’s elk reduction has shown the current CWD prevalence rate in the park’s elk herd to be 13.9%.  It is believed that reducing the elk population within the park and keeping it near the low population objective, may reduce the prevalence of CWD. The effectiveness of this management action will be evaluated over the next several years to coincide with the lifespan of the disease in elk. This action is consistent with the range of options presented in the Wind Cave Elk Management Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement signed in 2009. 

“We were very pleased with the partnership and support we received from GFP on this project, and we look forward to working with our partners again this year to improve the health of our herd,” Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Dávila said. “The study will inform wildlife managers throughout our agency and the State for the long-term health of the species.”

Every animal taken during this operation will be tested for CWD. The NPS is partnering with GFP to distribute meat with a “non-detected” finding for CWD to Feeding South Dakota, an organization dedicated to eliminating hunger in the state. Also, volunteers who work an entire week on this operation will be eligible to receive some of the elk meat. Only meat with a ‘not-detected’ test result for CWD will be distributed.

Four different volunteers will be needed each of the two weeks of this operation beginning February 5. Two teams will be formed, each consisting of an NPS team leader and 2 volunteers. Anyone wishing to volunteer must submit an online application through GFP website at: A lottery, similar to those conducted for elk permits, will be conducted.  Applications will be accepted from January 3, 2018, to January 10, 2018.  Only online applications will be accepted.  No paper applications will be allowed. Applicants need to be over 18 years of age, a South Dakota resident, not have a felony record, and be willing to undergo a background check. 

On their first day, volunteers will be required to demonstrate advanced firearms proficiency and physical fitness to participate. This will include shooting a minimum of 3 out of 5 shots into an 8-inch circle at 200 yards using their own firearm and non-lead ammunition. During the week, volunteers will be required to hike up to 10 miles over rough terrain and carry packs up to 70 lbs. in winter weather conditions. The operation will be conducted in February. 

Last updated: December 19, 2019

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