Prairie Restoration in the Black Hills of South Dakota

A new 636-acre habitat enhancement project in the Black Hills of South Dakota is currently underway, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the NWTF, the USDA Forest Service and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Partners are working to enhance the area’s wildlife value by removing invasive trees, primarily small ponderosa pines and Rocky Mountain junipers. The end results will provide many benefits, including returning the area to its historic vegetative structure, reducing the risk of unusual wildfires, and increasing the productivity of the landscape for the creatures that inhabit it.

The Black Hills National Forest covers 1.25 million acres in western South Dakota and extends into Wyoming. The area, considered sacred by Native American tribes, got its name from the Lakota Sioux words “Paha Sapa,” meaning “hills that are black.”

The national forest is characterized by its predominance of ponderosa pines, needle-like mountains, and lowlands consisting of grasslands, where the NWTF and its partners are working to improve native grassland habitats, which are important areas for wild turkeys.

Ponderosa pines nine inches in diameter or less and Rocky Mountain junipers of all sizes are prime targets for removal. Once the 636-acre parcel is culled, managers will conduct controlled burns to further reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and revitalize prairie habitat.

“Ponderosa pine and Rocky Mountain juniper establish in high densities and choke out other habitat types and reduce overall value to wildlife,” said Clayton Lenk, NWTF district biologist for South Dakota, North Dakota. , Wisconsin and Minnesota. “These management techniques improve grasses and forbs while increasing the health and vigor of more mature and desirable trees within the meadow.”

While the project is expected to continue through 2023, wild turkeys are already benefiting from the work.

“By removing excess conifers, you open up the site to fill with grasses and herbs that act as a food source and cover for the turkeys,” Lenk said. “The larger trees throughout the meadow will also provide resting opportunities. This project benefits wild turkeys and is also great for other wildlife such as elk and deer that would use these meadows as part of their wintering grounds.”