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Wind Cave National Park Sends Elk Herd To Neighboring Custer State Park


Nearly 400 elk recently were moved out of Wind Cave National Park and into neighboring Custer State Park. NPS photo.

Airborne cowboys have herded hundreds of elk from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota into neigboring Custer State Park under a plan to reduce the elk population in the national park while boosting it in the state park.

Nearly 400 elk were moved out of the national park and into the state park by helicopter crews chartered by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department (GFP) and paid for with funding from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They spent two days rounding up and pushing elk north across the parks’ shared boundary. Sections of fence that normally restrict animal movement between the parks had been lowered or had drop-down gates installed to facilitate this transfer.

“This is just another example of the strong partnership we have with Custer State Park, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,” said Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Davila. “Twenty-seven of the 391 animals transferred were wearing tracking collars that will allow us to monitor their movements and gauge the success of the operation.”

The parks signed a Memorandum of Understanding last spring that benefits both parks by allowing managers the tools needed to adaptively manage their respective elk populations.

“This successful elk transfer demonstrates that when government entities work together cooperatively, good things result,” said GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk. “This effort is a win-win for both parks by helping both entities achieve their management objectives.”

Wind Cave’s Elk Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, completed in 2009, calls for an elk population of 232 to 475. Leading up to the elk transfer, there were an estimated 950 elk in the national park this winter.


Both of these parks have outstanding opportunities for wildlife viewing - and fine scenery. If you're in the area, the cave tour at Wind Cave is worthwhile, but don't fail to allow plenty of time to enjoy the area "topside" as well.

These are excellent locations for seeing bison in large numbers, especially if you allow enough time to take leisurely drives on the extensive road networks in both parks.

Custer State Park is the nicest State Park I have ever been to. If you go to Wind Cave or need to set time aside to visit this Park.

I'm curious about what led to having a fence in the first place. The two parks share a long contiguous border and have the same megafauna species.

Likely centered upon the state owned free-ranging bison herd Custer Park has. They are rounded up annually in a big local event and animals are culled, sold for slaughter, medicated etc... NPS isn't a part of it as far as I know.

I agree, Jim. I backpacked the "topside" of Wind Cave, and I was surprised by its beauty and abundant wildlife. And although I only drove through Custer on my way to Wind Cave, it was indeed beautiful from the road.

I find it interesting that this movement of elk was allowed given the the high rate of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) present in this elk herd. I understand there was a project that monitored the presence of CWD in this herd and it was expected that study to give good information for further understanding of CWD. It is apparent the disease is not devastating to cervidae (deer,elk) as the department of agriculture and Department of natural resources and the fish and game departments are leading people to believe. Elk have been moved across the United States for purposes of repopulating other areas with elk that do not currently have viable herds. The only accepted method of determining whether an animal is CWD infected is to kill he animal and view a cross section of the brain stem. When CWD is alleged to have been found in a private cervidae herd the government bodies that regulate that herd require all animals to be killed and tested and to trace every animal that moved in and out of that herd. This elk herd that was heavily "infected" with CWD should have been exterminated by all standards that are allowed for those with private herds. This standard or regulation must be changed as our own state and federal governments demonstrate by their actions that CWD is not a devastating disease and that herds affected do not reduce from CWD and they in fact increase without treatment or interference of man.

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