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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tatanka - Bison symbol of Custer State Park

Explore the Black Hills with costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews in Murder in State Park.

Custer State Park is renowned for being a refuge for wildlife, echoing the prairie song of these western plains, that were once filled with bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep...Peter Norbeck first drew attention to conservation efforts to save South Dakota's Bison population and reintroduce other native forms of wildlife that were driven extinct in westward expansion (fur trade, trappers, game hunting.)

Bison are the mascot of Custer State Park.  'Buffalo' (scientifically known as 'Bison bison') roam the park, trekking from the Iron Mountain Road, to Game Lodge onwards to the prairies of the Wildlife Loop.  Custer's Buffalo herd is 1300 + strong.  This wasn't always the case, if it hadn't been for the efforts of conservationists, bison would be a mere ghost on the plains. 

150 years ago, Buffalo roamed this land by the millions, stampeding on the plains, as mighty warriors of Dakota.  30 years of market hunting and western settlement decimated the bison population.  Isn't it scary to think how quickly our lack of concern for our environment and surroundings can deteriorate.  This is a living history call to remind us to move forward as stewards of the earth, actively helping us to learn from the past.  By 1900 only 1,000 bison lived in all of America - millions to 1000?  That is staggering.  The Lakota see the bison as a sacred animal, The Great Spirits gift as a renewable resource that must be respected.  They used all part of the animal for food, clothing, teepees, and admired the bison, they hunted it as a management and resource, but not plundering the populations.  The Lakota mourned the loss of the bison and can give us an example when being conservationist - using our resources without plundering them. 

Pete Dupree and Scotty Philip were instrumental in saving the bison population.  They kept five bison calves to raise and started a bison heard to preserve the species.  In December 1914, Custer State Game Preserve (now Custer State Park) purchased thirty-six bison from Scotty Phillip.  The herd grew with more park purchases to 2,500.  In the 1960s a limited Bison hunt was held, although this seems counterintuitive, the park's 71,000 acres can only support around 1500 bison  (healthy population)...

The Buffalo Roundup: The park manages the bison population with the annual Buffalo Roundup - bison are rounded up to the Buffalo Corrals on the Wildlife Loop - an amazing sight, and vaccinated and given exams.  Bison over ten years old are auctioned off to bison ranches - this ensures that they receive a peaceful life in the park for the majority of their years...many are sold as studs to buffer other bison herds.  Custer State Park has one of the best eco-management of wildlife in the world.  They understand the perfect balance of protection. 

The Buffalo Roundup is held the third weekend in September and includes an arts festival and bison chili cook off.

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