Badlands National Park Established (1939)

Native Americans called the place the “bad lands” because traveling through the landscape was so difficult.  The name stuck as ranchers, farmers and other settlers attempted to carve a living from the land.  Perhaps the best use of the region was settled when it was declared a national monument on January 25, 1939, by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The badlands region of southwestern South Dakota served as home to several Native American groups for as long as 11,000 years.  Their descendants were the Lakota Indians that still live in the region.  Most Native American lands were appropriated by the federal government for granting to homesteaders in the late 1800s.  Conflicts began, including the famous battle at Wounded Knee (which is not in the park itself, but about 45 miles south).

Badlands National Park, 2000 (photo by Patrick Bolduan)

After the turn of the century, homesteading began in earnest.  Changes in federal law expanded the size of a homestead from the traditional 160 acres to 640 acres, acknowledging the inability of a small tract to support a family.  Life was hard, with dry summers, brutally cold winters and strong winds at all times.  During the Dust Bowl years, farming became so difficult that most families abandoned their lands or sold them back to the federal government.

During this time, the idea of preserving the lands gained attention.  In various stages, plans for a national park or monument were developed and passed.  The creation of a park was pushed most vigorously by South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck, also known for his commitment to wildlife and waterfowl in particular.  The Badlands National Monument was officially created by the proclamation of President Roosevelt on January 25, 1939 (later, in 1978, the monument was reclassified as Badlands National Park).

The park covers approximately 240,000 acres of highly eroded hills surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem.  The area was covered by an ancient sea that disappeared gradually, depositing sediments until about 28 million years ago.  Because of this history, Badlands contains exceptional fossil beds, serving as the nation’s most productive site for mammalian fossils from the Oligocene.

The early arguments over whether Badlands should be a national park or monument revolved around access for recreational visitors—it was a hard place to get to.  Today, however, it has become a popular site.  From a low of about 10,000 annual visitors during World War II, annual visitation is now around 1 million.

Black-footed ferret (photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region)

The park is notable for a fauna that is well adapted to life in such harsh conditions.  Although both American bison and pronghorn antelope were extirpated, they have been reintroduced and are thriving.  Of particular interest is the endangered black-footed ferret, which has suffered because of habitat loss, declines in their prey (especially prairie dogs), and disease.  Populations have been re-introduced into Badlands National Park as part of the recovery plan that is based entirely on captive breeding and establishment of carefully protected populations.

References:

Mattison, Ray H. and Robert A. Grom.  1968.   History of Badlands National Monument.  Badlands Natural History Association.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/badl/index.htm.  Accessed January 24, 2018.

National Park Service.  Badlands.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/badl/learn/nature/mammals.htm.  Accessed January 24, 2018.

US-Parks.com.  Badlands National Park History.  Available at:  http://www.us-parks.com/badlands-national-park/history.html.  Accessed January 24, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
January February March April May June July August September October November December