The Return of the Great Plains Puma

Kirk Johnson
International Ecological Partnerships, P.O. Box 40323, Grand Junction, CO 81504;

With the advent of European settlement over a century ago, the northern Great Plains became the site of extremely rapid landscape change. Most large mammals, including the wapiti or elk (Cervus elephas), bison (Bison bison), wolf (Canis lupus), puma (Puma concolor), grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilus), and black bear (Ursus americanus), were almost completely extirpated from wooded "island-like" habitats such as the Black Hills, the Pine Ridge Escarpment, and also from the mixed-grass prairies. Pumas likely persisted in very low densities within the Black Hills, which now constitutes the core breeding and dispersal ecoregion into adjacent biotically similar environments, including the Pine Ridge Escarpment, the Rawhide Buttes, and the Wildcat Hills. Limiting factors on puma numbers include fluctuating white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations, and human and road densities. Rural land-owners within the Greater Black Hills ecosystem may increasingly face the dilemma of balancing economic interests with federal and state laws designed to protect and reestablish these native carnivores. How farmers and ranchers resolve these land use issues has implications for other Great Plains states where carnivore dispersion is also taking place. If the Black Hills, the core habitat for the Great Plains puma can be preserved, along with riparian patch and peninsula corridors to adjacent forested buttes, the puma will once again take its place as a dominant carnivore in the Great Plains.