Several environmental issues confront the various agencies charged with stewardship of the public lands of South Dakota. Employees of the National Forests and the National Grasslands, both under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service, and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks all have management responsibilities over large tracts of land in the Black Hills .
The National Parks and Monuments are recreational in nature. The National Forests and National Grasslands are oriented to mixed-use with decisions to be made regarding issues such as grazing, mining, and logging balanced against recreational use. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks regulates hunting and fishing and also manages several large parks, including Angostura Recreation Area  and Custer State Park .
An environmental concern common to every land management agency in the Black Hills is how to respond to fire in the Black Hills. The climate most favorable to ponderosa pine forests includes high spring vegetation followed by conditions favorable to frequent summer fires, including drought and thunderstorms. Fire is important to the ecology of the grasslands and to the ponderosa pine. Fire suppression in the Black Hills was started initially to protect the timber industry.
The effect of fire suppression over many years, however, was to ensure a high density of trees, which resulted in far more destructive fires when they occurred. The fires are hotter and more likely to exhibit crowning behavior. Crowning behavior is just what it sounds like, with fire burning high in the crowns of the trees and traveling quickly from tree to tree, instead of burning slowly and low to the ground. These fires are more difficult to contain once started.
As homes are built closer and closer to National Parks, Grasslands, and Forests, fire suppression becomes an important issue for the citizens of the region. All of the agencies involved have tried to balance fire suppression with fire management, frequently with controlled fires, called prescribed burns.
Predators have never fared well in South Dakota. Wolves and bears, once active in the region, have been eliminated. Coyote, on the predator/varmint list, can be hunted year-round; there is no daily or possession limit and the cost of a license is just $5. In 2005, the mountain lion, the last big predator remaining in the hills with no history of attacks on humans, was declared a game animal by the state. Since then, each season the number of allowable kills has increased dramatically. The hunting fee for mountain lion is $15, one of the most inexpensive licenses offered.
Hunters and ranchers, both powerful coalitions in South Dakota, are strong supporters of mountain lion hunting. Conservation groups are not as enthusiastic. Many believe that trophy hunting the last small population of lions left in the region is not a reasonable management philosophy. The first hunt limited the kill to a total of 25 animals, with an additional restriction of five breeding-age females. A few short years later, the number of allowable kills increased to 40 animals total, out of which 25 can be breeding females. This is a significant increase and several cougar protection organizations have filed complaints.
Hunting caused the near demise of the bison, the pronghorn, and the elk in this region, but contemporary hunting organizations are generally inclined to keep populations healthy enough to allow for continued hunting. The biggest question remaining is all about the numbers. If too many breeding females are killed the small population could be devastated in a few short years. But how many is too many?
After World War II, uranium became the hot ticket for mining companies. Nuclear power plants were being built and uranium was a crucial element for the power supply of the future. As a result, the price of uranium went up enough to make mining feasible. Mining in the southern Black Hills  began near the Fall River County community of Edgemont. Uranium was mined and milled here beginning in 1956, continuing through 1974, when economic factors caused the mine owners to keep the mines closed. In recent years, due to environmental concerns about global warming caused, in part, by the use of fossil fuels, interest in nuclear energy has rebounded. New nuclear reactors built in China and India have increased the demand for uranium, as well. In 2002, the price of uranium was $9.60 per pound. By September 2008, the price had risen to over $60 per pound and uranium mining in South Dakota became economically feasible once again.
Exploratory holes are already being drilled near Edgemont, in Fall River County, but not without protest. Two groups, Defenders of the Black Hills and Action for the Environment, are fighting the re-emergence of mining in the area. The major concern regionally is the possible contamination of groundwater. The process has been slow, but it probably won’t be long before uranium mining is once again an active industry in the Black Hills.