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 who 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

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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