Natural Resources of The Coteau Area of North Dakota
By Anne Nyren and Sandi Dewald

The Missouri Coteau is a moraine highland deposited in a broad band across the state of North Dakota by a receding glacier some 10,000 years ago. The land is characterized by rolling, grassy hills, rocky soils and potholes and lakes are common. While many acres of the Coteau have been converted to cropland, much of the land is highly erodible, best suited to the production of perennial forages. These rangeland pastures are an important resource for North Dakota livestock producers.

There are nearly five million acres of native rangeland and pasture in the Coteau area of North Dakota constituting 42% of the state's rangeland and 39% of the state's farms. Livestock is the second largest Agricultural Industry in the state and 42% of the state's livestock is raised in the Coteau area.

The Coteau region is often referred to as, "The Red River Valley of livestock production." Table 1 shows the abundance of natural resources, land use patterns and production statistics in the Coteau. In addition, many counties in the region also rank in the top ten counties for production of oats, barley, durum wheat, potatoes, hay, sunflowers, spring wheat and corn.

The Coteau region of North Dakota is a prime waterfowl nesting region of North America. The eighteen counties of North Dakota which make up the Coteau contain over one million temporary, seasonal, and semi-permanent wetlands that cover over 1.3 million acres. The average density of these three classes of wetlands is nearly 42 per square mile. These numerous wetlands coupled with adequate cover attract millions of nesting waterfowl and shore birds each year. Unique areas, in addition to these more typical areas, are of special interest to birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Chase Lake is the largest white pelican rookery in North America, where thousands of these birds nest each spring. Giant Canada geese nest and raise their young along lakes throughout the Coteau, migrating south and returning in spring. Sandhill cranes can also be seen flying in large flocks in the area.

Great numbers of out-of-state hunters come to the area for goose, duck, pheasant and deer hunting each year. Others come for the superb fishing, canoeing and sailing opportunities at Lake Sakakawea, the state's largest reservoir of fresh water. Both hunting and fishing are carefully managed, and wildlife refuges are sprinkled throughout the area. Many visitors to North Dakota simply enjoy seeing the abundant wildlife in its natural habitat and opportunities abound for artists, writers, and wildlife photographers.

The area has many small family businesses including hunting lodges and bed and breakfast facilities which cater to sportsman, bird watchers, and eco tourists. Hospitality, comfort and excellent service are the trademarks of these small businesses.

The Coteau is an area of wide open native prairie that is magnificent in its beauty and productivity. For those who live and work in the area, the above sights, sounds, and moods are simply a description of a place called home.

Table 1. Summary of Natural Resources, and Land Use Statistics for the 18 Counties Within the
Coteau Area of North Dakota
County Population 1
Farms 1
Farm Size
in Ac.1
Acres of
Acres of
Acres of
Land 2
Acres of
Pasture 2
Acres of Wetlands
Without Lakes and Rivers4
Coteau Total 228,889 14,574,083 1,224 4,285,700 1,315,343 84,600 456,000 1,398,160
State Total 638,800 39,359,346 1,290 10,325,100 3,000,000 425,700 1,167,900 2,411,126
Percent of State 36% 37%   42% 44% 20% 39% 58%

1 Statistics taken from North Dakota Agricultural Statistics 1999. 2 Statistics taken from NRCS: 1992 Natural Resources Inventory. 3 Statistics provided by Farm Service Agency. 4 Statistics from the US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory taken east and north of the Missouri River.

Anne C. Nyren
Administrative Officer
Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
4824 48th Ave. SE
Streeter, ND 58483

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

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