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Bison movements tracked by collars and satellites at Wind Cave
Tracking devices strapped onto 10 cows during Wind Cave roundup

Bison movements tracked by collars and satellites at Wind Cave


WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK | The movements of 10 bison cows in Wind Cave National Park are being tracked with collars that communicate with satellites, thanks to money raised by a nonprofit.

The collars are being affixed this week while the park does its regular every-other-year roundup.

Greg Schroeder, the park’s chief of resource management, said the collars will transmit from four locations per day, and the information will arrive in the email inboxes of park officials.

“It will allow us to look on a much finer scale at how the bison are utilizing the park’s resources,” Schroeder said Tuesday.

Specifically, Schroeder said park officials are interested to see how the bison utilize the park’s limited water resources. That information could help park officials determine whether additional watering areas are needed to prevent overuse and damage of existing water resources.

The park also hopes to place a kiosk in the visitor center that will show the collared bison’s whereabouts to visitors.

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A nonprofit organization, the Black Hills Parks & Forests Association, raised the money to buy the collars. Executive Director Patty Ressler said the association implemented an Adopt-a-Bison program two years ago at the park. The price for an “adoption” — which amounts to a sponsorship — is $35, with $20 going to the park’s resource management program.

Ressler said about 1,500 “adoptions” have occurred, raising $30,000 for the resource management program. Much of that money will go to the collar project, Ressler said, because the park also needs software and a computer dedicated to the project, plus the kiosk for the visitor center.

Preparations for this week’s roundup began last week when park employees began moving about 300 of the park’s 550 bison with all-terrain vehicles and a contracted helicopter. After allowing the bison to settle down over the weekend in a large enclosure, park employees and other helpers began running the bison through a corral and into a squeeze chute Monday and Tuesday.

Any bison that had not been previously handled received an implanted chip near one of their ears and an ear tag, both of which help park officials track the age and other characteristics of the herd. Blood was also drawn and tail-hair samples were taken from the bison for DNA testing (past testing has found the park's herd to be one of the least affected by cattle genes in the nation).

To keep the herd at a size appropriate for the park’s natural resources, 85 young bison will be culled and sent to Nature Conservancy preserves in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. Another 40 young bison will be sent to Native American tribes in Minnesota and South Dakota.

The park’s roundup is conducted in the least disruptive way possible for the bison, which are treated as wildlife in the park. The corral panels are approximately 7 feet high so that the bison see fewer people, while roundup participants keep their voices down and use flags to gently haze the bison into the chute.

“We like to make it as low-stress of an operation as we can,” Schroeder said.

Contact Seth Tupper at

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