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Bison charge into bigger Badlands range
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Bison charge into bigger Badlands range

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A project that expanded the bison range at Badlands National Park by nearly 35 square miles was heralded Friday as an example for other conservation projects to follow.

“This effort is a model for how we can succeed in the conservation of species, of wildlife, of culturally important animals,” said Raymond Sauvajot, associate director of the National Park Service.

Sauvajot was among approximately 50 people, including dignitaries and other guests, who braved the breathtakingly cold and windy conditions Friday morning at the Pinnacles Overlook. When four bison jumped from a trailer near the overlook onto the new part of their range, Badlands Superintendent Mike Pflaum said it ended a 142-year absence of bison from that section of land. After the release, the rest of the celebration moved indoors at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Bison have long roamed the wilder, western part of the park’s North Unit. But the park’s rugged topography allowed no convenient place for the park’s 1,200 bison to migrate toward the central part of the North Unit, where most of the park’s visitors are concentrated on the Badlands Loop Road.

The only logical place for bison to cross from one part of the North Unit to the other was a grassy flat owned by the Don Kelly ranch family. In 2014, multiple nonprofit entities, including the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Northern Prairies Land Trust, participated with government entities and the Kellys in a land swap that added the necessary parcel to the park and enabled the expansion of the park’s bison range.

More recently, the park spent $1.218 million to build 43 new miles of fence in the park and install three cattle guards, thereby increasing the bison range by 22,000 acres to a total of 80,193 acres.

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Nearly two-thirds of the money — $743,000 — came from charitable organizations and their supporters, including the National Park Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Badlands Natural History Association and the Badlands National Park Conservancy. The remaining $475,000 came from the National Park Service Centennial Challenge fund.

The National Park Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund raised $513,754 of the charitable contributions in just two weeks. Martha Kauffman, of the World Wildlife Fund, said her organization had several large donations and 2,482 smaller donations.

Sauvajot praised the broad public and private cooperation that brought the project to fruition.

“It is an amazing model of collaborative conservation, of coming together to achieve these important common goals,” he said.

Pflaum, the park superintendent, said afterward in a Journal interview that the park and its partners hope to parlay their momentum from the bison project into a building project. Plans are in place for a new visitor center, lodge and other improved facilities, which will need funding and fundraising.

Meanwhile, Friday was all about celebrating the people and organizations who made the bison project possible.

In his closing remarks at the celebration, Flaum said, “What a great thing we have done together.”

Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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