Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks are planning to promote bighorn sheep in Custer State Park. As reported by the Black Hills Pioneer, GF&P will collect 10-15 female sheep from Badlands National Park and transfer them into Custer State Park, which currently has just 30 sheep after its herd suffered from a pneumonia-like disease over a decade ago.

Since the outbreak of the disease, sheep in Custer State Park have fared better in recent years. In the past two years, none of the park’s bighorn sheep have perished from the disease. Three of the surviving sheep who had been exposed to the disease have been sent to South Dakota State University for further study. If the transplant of sheep from the Badlands to Custer State Park is successful, the state park’s existing herd would be nearly doubled.

To read more about Custer State Park, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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On January 3, 1961, Ben Reifel became the first Lakota man to serve in the United States House of Representatives. As a congressman, Reifel was a strong advocate for education, veterans affairs, and the humanities. Reifel was the first American Indian to serve South Dakota in Congress.

Although Reifel did not complete the 8th grade until he was sixteen years old, he was able to attain degrees in both chemistry and dairy science from South Dakota State University. During his undergraduate career, Reifel had joined the Army Reserves and later served in World War II. Reifel went on to earn both his master’s and doctoral degree from Harvard University after the war. He was one of the first American Indians to earn a doctoral degree.

After working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Pine Ridge Reservation, Reifel ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican. Reifel won his first campaign and went on to serve five terms. As a congressman, Reifel advocated for education in tribal communities, and advocated for combining county and tribal schools so that both Native and non-Native students could learn together.

Reifel returned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work following his last term in Congress. Reifel died at the age of 83 in Sioux Falls, following a battle with cancer. Shortly after his death and to honor Reifel’s legacy, Congress renamed the Cedar Pass Visitor Center to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Additionally, Governor Dennis Daugaard declared September 19 as Ben Reifel Day in South Dakota in 2017.

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Once thought to be extinct, the discovery of a small colony of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming allowed the species to be repopulated and reintroduced across the country. On August 18th, 1994, the species made its grand re-entry into Badlands National Park.

Reduction in the prairie dog population was a large contributing factor for the demise of the black-footed ferret. Black-footed ferrets are heavily reliant on prairie dogs for their survival—the ferrets prey upon prairie dogs and also use their burrows as shelter. When prairie dogs were ravaged by excessive plowing of the plains, disease and poisoning, black-footed ferrets fell victim as well.

A small colony of black-footed ferrets were discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981 by a ranch dog. Eight of those ferrets were captured and successfully bred in captivity. The original colony also helped to reintroduce over 1,000 ferrets across 19 sites in the west, including Badlands National Park.

In the Conata Basin—just south of Badlands National Park—a bout of sylvatic plague decimated both the prairie dog and ferret populations in 2008. The disease killed approximately 100 of the 290 ferrets in the basin, as well as nearly all of the prairie dogs. While much work remains to be done to ensure the health and proliferation of the black-footed ferret, numerous efforts are currently in place to protect the population well into the future.

To read more about environment and conservation issues in the Black Hills, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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Beginning on August 28, 2017 the fee for the senior citizen lifetime national park pass will increase from $10 to $80, reports KOTA News. The fee was increased through the National Park Service Centennial Act, which was passed by Congress in 2016.

The additional revenue generated through the fee increase will establish an endowment to fund park projects and visitor services.

The lifetime national park pass can be purchased by U.S. citizens over the age of 62 and can be used at any national park in the United States. National parks in the Black Hills region include the Mount Rushmore National Monument, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

For more information on national parks in the Black Hills region, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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In 2016, 4.5 million individuals visited national parks within South Dakota, reports the Black Hills Pioneer. Mount Rushmore National Memorial drew the largest number of visitors at 2.4 million, followed by Badlands National Park at 996,263 visitors. The total number of visitors to South Dakota’s national parks in the state can be viewed below: 

National Park Visitors in 2016
Mount Rushmore National Memorial 2,431,231
Badlands National Park 996,263
Wind Cave National Memorial 617,377
Jewel Cave National Monument 137,275
Minuteman Missile National Historic District 133,895
Missouri National Recreation River 148,210

Visitors to the Rushmore State’s national parks helped boost the state’s economy with $292 million spent in communities surrounding the parks. Overall, visitor spending contributed $377 million to local economies, according to the National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics Report.

Read more about National Park Service visitors at the agency’s statistics site. Learn more about the environment and conservation in the Black Hills region at the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s Issue Hub page

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Entrance fees for Badlands National Park will increase next year to help fund park maintenance projects, reports the Rapid City Journal. Starting on January 3, annual passes for the park will increase to $40 from $30 per vehicle. In 2019, the annual fee will land at $50 per vehicle. Motorcycle entrance feels will increase from $10 to $15 in 2019, and bicyclist and pedestrian fees will increase from $7 to $10 in 2017, and then to $12 in 2019.

The park solicited public comments regarding the fee increases in January of this year. Public meetings were held in Wall, Kadoka, Interior, Rapid City and Pine Ridge. Entrance fees to the park have not been adjusted in a decade.

To read more about Badlands National Park, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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Tourists have been visiting the Black Hills in greater numbers than last year, reports KOTA.

Visitors to the Badlands National Park show the largest increase in numbers, with a 16% increase in visitors over last year.  Visitors to Mount Rushmore are up by 13%, and other National Parks in the region are showing a 10% increase.  If the numbers continue throughout July and August, it could be a record breaking year for tourism in the Black Hills.

For more information on tourism, please visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network news archive.

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The Rapid City Journal has published a complete listing of all events happening across the Black Hills region from Memorial Day through September. With the 75th anniversary of Mount Rushmore coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service and national park system, this summer could be a busy year for the area and the multitude of events happening over the next four months reflects this anticipation.

Click on this archives link for past news articles related to the U.S. Forest Service.

For more information on recreational opportunities in Rapid City, be sure to check out this Knowledge Network resource page

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A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Parks Service shows how much national parks tourism traffic benefits local communities, reports the Rapid City Journal.

In 2015, national parks in the Badlands and the Black Hills pulled in 4.2 million visitors, who spent $276.2 million in the nearby communities. The study determined that national parks tourism returns $10 for every $1 spent on the parks.

For more about tourism, please visit our news archives.

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Thursday, 21 April 2016 00:00

Free Admission to Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is offering free admission through Sunday, April 24, as part of the National Park Service's 100th anniversary, reports the Associated Press. 

The promotion is part of the Find Your Park program designed to support national parks. 

The National Park Service reports that 4.4 million people annually visit South Dakota's six national park sites.

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Badlands National Park
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Lewis & Clark Historic Trail
  • Missouri River National Recreational River

The NPS reports those places generate a $242 million economic benefit. 

Read more about Tourism on the Black Hills Knowledge Network


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More than 1 million tourists visited Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in 2015, thanks largely to an attractive new visitor center visible from Interstate 90, reports the Rapid City Journal

With the visitor center complete at the end of 2014, visitation to the missile site increased more than 60 percent -- to more than 100,000 visitors -- in 2015. Both the missile site and the Badlands are east of Rapid City and accessible from I-90 Exit 131. Visitation to the Badlands increased 14 percent and topped 1 million in 2015. 

In 2016, the missile site plans to unveil exhibits to show the role the network of underground missiles played in the Cold War

Read more about tourism on the Black Hills Knowledge Network


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The Badlands National Park recently appointed a new Superintendent, Mike Pflaum.  The Rapid City Journal reports that Mr. Pflaum is interested in talking with tribal officials about their positions on various opinions. One hot topic is the idea of a tribal national park.  The new superintendent will take his post later in August and looks forward to learning more to see what options are feasible.

For more information about the Badlands National Park, visit our archive or their website

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Part of the scenic Loop Road at Badlands National Park is in danger of being shut down for construction this summer, after road workers found an underground cavern filled with water beneath a section of the road, reports the Rapid City Journal.

Construction on state highway 240, more commonly referred to as the Badlands Loop Road, led workers to discover a cave below the road filled with water. The original project’s aim was to address the road’s already precarious position and ensure its stability.

Badlands Superintendent Eric Brunnemann says that the cavern has probably been beneath the road for years, with this spring’s heavy rainfall pushing the water even higher.

In a six week project, crews will attempt to find the source of the water and divert it before rebuilding the section of highway. The road closure will disconnect Interstate 90 and Highway 44, and negatively affect tourists’ ability to reach the park’s Visitor’s Center. Park and highway officials hope to work together to minimize the strain on trafiic while the necessary repairs are being made.

For more information, please visit the Badlands National Park website or the Black Hills Knowledge Network archive.

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As the new Badlands National Park Deputy Superintendent, Reed Robinson plans to place more focus on Lakota culture, heritage, history and youth engagement, according to the news release announcing his move from Devil's Tower National Monument to Badlands. 

Robinson, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is a founding member of the National Park Service's Council for Indigenous Relevancy, Communication, Leadership, and Excellence, C.I.R.C.L.E. He is a 24-year veteran of the National Park Service and has been actively involved with the Badlands South Unit's General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (GMP/EIS) since 2010. 

The South Unit of the park is within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The South Unit is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and is proposed, under the 2012 GMP/EIS to become the first tribal national park in the nation.

Reed Robinson Badlands National Park

Reed Robinson

Robinson told South Dakota Public Radio that he is eager to reach out to the Oglala Sioux Tribe in planning celebrations of the NPS's 100th anniversary in 2016. Listen to the full interview online. 

Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the US. The Badlands Wilderness Area covers 64,000 acres and is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America. 

Read more about Tourism on the Black Hills Knowledge Network


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Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe will decide whether the nation's first tribal national park is opened on the Badlands National Park's South Unit, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The tribal council decided to put the issue to a vote of the people rather than proceed with their own plans to enter into an agreement with the National Park Service. The election will be about 90 days from the tribal council's Oct. 6 decision, said OST President Bryan Brewer.

The tribal council also voted to rescind a controversial resolution that would have revoked grazing rights for ranchers who now have agreements to graze on the South Unit with the National Park Service.

The South Unit lies entirely within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation but is managed by the National Park Service.

Read the National Park Service's management plan for the South Unit online.

Read more about Badlands National Park on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.


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Visitor numbers are down in the Black Hills this summer, SD Public Radio reports.

Industry officials cited the cooler weather as the reason for the decline. Cooler temperatures were prevalent throughout the beginning of the summer.

Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park both experienced more than a 4 percent decline in visitation compared to early summer visitation in 2013.

The numbers for July visitation to Mount Rushmore are below last year's average as well.

Read more stories about tourism on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.



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Wednesday, 18 June 2014 00:00

Tribal National Park Debate Visits Wall

The debate over whether to establish a tribally run national park in the south unit of Badlands National Park in southern South Dakota was discussed during a meeting on June 16in Wall, the Rapid City Journal reports.

The National Park Service must approve the new management model before any plans go into effect. However, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council created controversy within their community decdiding to cancel grazing leases on land bordering the proposed tribal park. 

Nebraska radio personality Lory Storm joined ranchers at the meeting who opposed the tribal council's plan.

Read the full story about what the Ogalala Sioux Tribal Council plans to do on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.

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Reintroduction of bison to the South Unit of Badlands National Park has created much debate throughout the Ogalala Sioux Tribe, SDPB reports.

The Ogalala Sioux Tribal Council is looking to reintroduce bison to the South Unit of the Badlands National Park and appropriate adjacent land held by locals. A meeting in May was held on the Pine Ridge Reservation to go through the questions and complaints many people have regarding the tribal council's proposal. Some tribal council members did not attend. 

Badlands National Park Superintended Eric Brunnemann was present at the meeting. Brunnemann's purpose was to assist the tribe with its goal of managing the South Unit Badlands Area. Congressional approval is needed in order for the land to be turned into the nation's first tribal national park.  The plan of the Ogalala Sioux Tribal Council includes canceling grazing leases and/or foreclosing property owned by tribal ranchers next to the proposed bison reintroduction area. 

Most people are not worried about the reintroduction of bison to the area, as it doesn't affect them. However, some are angered that their land could be taken away, as the Ogalala Sioux Tribal Council plans to enact eminent domain in order to obtain the land. Susan Two-Bulls Shockley will be greatly affected if the plan goes through. "My land is within the boundaries...the set boundary. My two brothers, my two sisters and I...we have a hundred and sixty acres." 

However, Brunnemann states that the National Park Service, as the tribe's partner, must approve of the reintroduction of bison to the land. This would happen only if the tribe becomes manager of the South Unit, which is still uncertain at this point.

June 6 was the final day for public comments on the issue. As of now, the proposal is up in the air, with a lot of issues to be resolved before the Tribal Council's plan goes through.

Published in Home
Monday, 28 April 2014 23:23

Bison Restoration in the Badlands

Bison were a religious symbol for Native Americans, as well as a source for food, shelter, and tools. Hunting during the 19th Century nearly led to the species being wiped out. A herd was brought to Sage Creek Basin in the South Dakota Badlands in 1963. It had grown to 450 animals after 24 years, and close to 900 after 50. Now, Native Americans are considering reclaiming the South Unit of the Badlands to host another herd.

History of the South Unit

The South Unit of the Badlands has a long history, one that is not often fair to the Native Americans. The area known as Stronghold was a gathering spot for Ghost Dancers in 1890, protestors opposing US Army attempts to move Native Americans onto reservations. This group would flee to Wounded Knee Creek, where they were massacred.

The military returned in 1942, taking control of the northern portion of Pine Ridge to use as gunnery and bombing range. South Dakota National Guard continued using the area through 1968.

Native Americans tried to get the land returned, but tribal leaders were negotiating with the US Government about expanding the Badlands National Monument. In 1976, an agreement was reached: the South Unit would be added to the Badlands and jointly administered by the National Parks Service and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Badlands were re-designated as a National Park two years later.

The partnership has not been easy. The Park Service did not follow through with all promises on improving roads and infrastructure, and new buildings. The tribe has not submitted audits of gate receipts. The South Unit, at 133,000 acres, represent more than half of the park. However, access is more difficult, and the South Unit only receives 1% of the park's visitors. Of a $4.6 million budget, only $166,000 goes to the South Unit. There are three staff members for the South Unit, but only one is full-time, while the North Unit has 45 full-time employees.

Bison in the Badlands

The bison that roamed the prairies were almost wiped out in the 19th century. In 1963, a small herd was reintroduced into the Badlands. This herd continues to live in the North Unit of the Badlands.

Tribal National Park

A growing sentiment among the Oglala Sioux Tribe is that the tribe could manage the South Unit solely better than the current joint administration. The tribe opposed attempts to make a General Master Plan in the 2000s, leading to a plan passed only for the North Unit. In 2010, a new plan started taking shape which would return the South Until to the Oglala Sioux; it would be come the nation's first Tribal National Park. The plan saw approval in June 2012. The South Unit would still be subject to laws for national parks, but would be run entirely by the tribe.

The tribe is still working toward fulfillment of the plan. One remaining step is an act of Congress to approve the change.

Bison in the South Unit

The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to 650 bison, collectively owned by the tribe. When the South Unit becomes a Tribal National Park, the tribe wants to bring in a new herd of up to 1,000 bison to roam and graze. A case study on bison approves the reintroduction, although it comments on the difficulties that may be faced.

One issue under discussion is where to place the bison. Public input is currently being gathered by the National Park Service on four plans. Local ranchers fear that their lands might be taken to accommodate the herd. Some of their land is leased from the tribe, who may decided to reclaim it.


Archive of stories on the Badlands

Badlands National Park - Critical Issues  Information on the bison and other important issues in the Badlands

Bringing bison back to Badlands  Case study on restoring bison to the South Unit

Bringing the bison home  World Wildlife Fund's page on the bison reintroduction

Can a tribe make good on its Badlands?  The South Unit, past present and future

The South Unit of the Badlands is likely to become America's first Tribal National Park  Information on the South Unit and the move to become a Tribal National Park


Published in Issues Hub

Approximately 70 people met to discuss concerns at the public comments session at Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge.  It was originally intended to be an opportunity to write down issues and thoughts about the proposals for the South Unit of the Badlands National Park. However, after a public address system was delivered many began to speak up.  According to the Rapid City Journal, many of the speakers condemned the proposal itself, the National Parks Service, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe President.

For more information on this and other Native American news please follow our archives.

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