Oglala Sioux Tribe and Park Service Partnering on First Tribal National Park

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Badlands bison Photo: National Park Service photo archive

The Oglala Sioux Tribe may be granted management of the South Unit of Badlands National Park, which would create the country's first tribal national park. The tribe and the National Park Service (NPS) have been working on an agreement to shift management of the 133,300-acre parcel since 2003. Department of Interior secretary Ken Salazar and NPS director Jon Jarvis today announced the release of the final General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for the park.

It would, however, be more accurate to say the tribe may be returned management of the land. The South Unit is part of what was the Pine Ridge Aerial Gunnery Range, which the U.S government formed during World War II by removing the land from the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 1968, the range closed and NPS took over management of the South Unit, as part of Badlands National Park.

Details on how the tribe would manage the section of the park is laid out in the management plan, which should be available online later today (I'll update this post, with a link, once I see it). It sounds, however, like the NPS would still play an active role in the South Unit. A press release says it plans to work with the tribe to restore “the health and vibrancy of the prairie to enhance wildlife habitat, expanding bison into the South Unit, providing roads and trails and providing greater opportunities for visitors to experience the natural grandeur of the South Unit and the heritage of the Oglala Sioux people.”

The Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation already employs a crew of rangers and wildlife managers that are working to introduce the swift fox and mountain lion to the region, Gerard Baker, the agency's interim director, told Indian Country Today. It also wants to increase tourism to the park, add a herd of 1,200 bison and offer cultural workshops in crafts, such as bow making and tanning.

Badlands NP sees about one million visitors a year, but only 9,500 of those visitors go to the South Unit, according to the Lakota Country Times, and the unit gets around five percent of the park's operating budget. 

The next step is for NPS to sign a record of decision to implement the general management plan, which is expected this summer. 

Then, Badlands National Park superintendent Eric Brunnemann told Indian Country Today, the tribe and NPS will “formally begin developing a legislative framework for creating the first tribal national park.” Congress needs to sign off on any change to National Park boundaries or management, so this won't be a fast process.

–Mary Catherine O'Connor

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