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Wind Cave National Park Plan Calls For Culling Elk Herd To Between 232-475 Animals


A management plan for culling the elk herd at Wind Cave National Park calls for hunting, roundups, and sharpshooters to be available to park managers. NPS photo.

A mixed bag of tools -- hunting outside the park, roundups and sharpshooters inside the park -- will be available to Wind Cave National Park officials as they work to reduce their 750-head elk herd to possibly as few as 232 animals, according to a management plan recently approved.

The plan signed off on by Ernest Quintana, the National Park Service's Midwest Region director, calls for Wind Cave officials to work closely with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to get control of the burgeoning elk herd that moves in and out of the park throughout the year.

The plan, which calls for hunting on public and private lands surrounding Wind Cave, is designed to reduce and then maintain the park’s elk herd at a target population goal based primarily on a forage allocation model, a park release explained. 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 fail to adequately reduce and or maintain the elk population within the park, the plan calls for the use of such other alternatives as 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, the release said.

“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 Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Davila. “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 4-foot high fence designed to retain historic elk movement patterns. Under the new plan, the height of the fence would be raised to 7 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 7-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 and click on the link for “Wind Cave Elk Management Plan.”

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