Integrated conservation of bison and native prairie at Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Science Center Objects

Badlands National Park contains the largest contiguous bison range in the core of the species’ historic range on the northern Great Plains. The park nevertheless is too small to accommodate natural movements of free-ranging bison. As a result, continual grazing by resident bison has supplanted intense-but-ephemeral grazing by nomadic bison. The herd also is currently too small to prevent gradual loss of genetic diversity. Active management of abundance and distribution in the park is therefore necessary to conserve bison and their keystone role in natural processes. This research involves the use of satellite global positioning system (GPS) collars to locate marked bison at hourly intervals throughout a 4-year period. Locations are being used to map the distribution of bison activity and develop models relating bison use to landscape features, characteristics of vegetation and proximity to water. Data resulting from this will be used, together with data from a related plant community study, to evaluate potential bison population and vegetation management objectives under various weather scenarios.