By Jeb Williams, Outreach Biologist, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

The new century has brought many beneficial items, but it also brought significant challenges. Changing times have introduced wildlife into the economic picture for many rural North Dakota citizens; considered by many to be a challenge in trying to balance wildlife as a public resource while also providing economic stability to agricultural producers. One of North Dakota’s attributes is our wildlife diversity across the state. The reason for the diversity is simple. Habitat.

North Dakota’s landscape changes from deeply cut and carved badlands in the west, to the prairie pothole region in the center, the deciduous forests of the Turtle Mountains and the Pembina Gorge, and the small, remnant stand of tall grass prairie in the southeast. We are truly blessed with unique landscapes.

Wildlife populations ebb and flow with North Dakota’s varying weather conditions. Healthy habitat provides wildlife with the necessary shelter and forage to withstand these changing patterns. Healthy habitat can be classified in different ways. For example, spring nesting cover is crucial to all wildlife. Trees, shrubs, and dense grass cover provide a healthy atmosphere in the spring months for wildlife to successfully raise their young. Riparian areas border streams or lakes where the vegetation is affected by occasional flooding. These areas contain both wetlands and upland habitats. A healthy riparian area provides a water source and shelter for wildlife.

North Dakota winter weather can be tough on people…imagine how tough it can be on wildlife. Shelterbelt plantings consisting of 3 to 4 species of trees, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, and upland cover will increase your odds in sustaining wildlife numbers through winter weather. While forage is important for wildlife in the harsh winter months, the previously mentioned habitats are the most important components of winter wildlife survival.

Many species of wildlife are resilient and will seemingly always be present in some capacity. However, with increased habitat enhancement and conservation we could easily have much more. Many producers are diversifying operations with wildlife interests. Before we have wildlife, we need to have habitat, and if we have habitat, it needs to be protected and enhanced to gain an economic return.

North Dakota’s grasslands, wetlands, badlands, and dense forested areas are a mastermind of wildlife necessities. These areas are a resource which will continue to provide wildlife as long as we protect and conserve the habitat. Wildlife and wildness are subjective items. The reality of wildlife populations and an untouched landscape is colored by our perception of what is, what was and what we expect.

Healthy habitats are the cornerstone to wildlife populations. Protect it and you will have it. Simple.

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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