Huron Wetland Management District lies within the geographic area known as the Northern Great Plains. In the eastern counties of Beadle, Jerauld, Sanborn, and all but the western edge of Hand, the soils are more fertile, deeper, and darker. Here, the grasslands are part of an area known as a transition zone, where tallgrass prairie gradually gives way to the mixed-grass prairie. In pristine condition, dominant species in the transition zone were big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, Indiangrass, porcupine grass, green needlegrass, and prairie junegrass. In the western counties of Buffalo, Sully, Hyde, and Hughes, the soils are not as deep and fertile. In these counties, the grasslands are dominated by mixed-grass prairie species, such as western wheatgrass, needleandthread, little bluestem, green needlegrass, and blue grama. (Not good with grasses? See our self-help guide:Grass ID for Beginners.
Tame (introduced) grasses have replaced much of the native prairie. Smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass, and intermediate wheatgrass are the most common introduced species in the District. These species also provide habitat for many wildlife species and are preferred over native prairie by some species. Nonetheless, they are not as desirable as a thriving native prairie which has the structural and species diversity to provide for a more diverse suite of wildlife species.
Many wildflowers occur on the District, although only in scattered amounts. If you are looking for wildflowers in particular, look in areas where the native sod is still intact (has never been plowed) and the grasslands have not been invaded by introduced grasses. Trechler WPA in northwestern Hand County has wildflowers. Try Harter WPA in southern Hyde County or Mills WPA on the northern border of Buffalo County. Also, look for flowers in the NW portion of Spring Lake WPA (SE Hand Co.) and on your trips to Millerdale WPA (SW Hand Co.) and Ingle WPA (SE Beadle Co.).
Depending on the time of your visit, you can expect to see different blooming plants. The herald of spring, the eager pasqueflower (wild crocus) often blooms before the snow has entirely melted from the landscape. In the swing of spring, daisy fleabane, groundplum milkvetch, and prairie smoke bloom. Early summer brings purple coneflower, goatsbeard, prickly pear, and wood lily, while sunflowers and prairie clover do not arrive until late summer. Some flowers bloom all summer long, such as common yarrow, golden aster, prairie coneflower, silverleaf scurfpea, American vetch, scarlet globemallow, wooly verbena, and wavyleaf thistle (a native, non-noxious thistle). During the early fall, milkweeds and goldenrods are still present.
Huron Wetland Management District lies within the prairie pothole region, the primary waterfowl production area in all of North America. Wetlands, also known as marshes, sloughs, ponds, or potholes, dominate much of the landscape. Within these wetlands, emergent vegetation, including cattail, bulrush, wild rice, smartweed, and arrowhead, is abundant. Submergent vegetation, such as sago pondweed, coontail, and duckweed, is also plentiful. These wetlands are important in many ways and vary greatly by size and type.
Temporary and seasonal wetlands tend to be smaller, shallower, and thaw quickly in the spring. They typically hold water for only a few days to a few weeks. But in that time, they support myriads of aquatic insects, snails, and other invertebrates that are a rich source of protein for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl returning to the area to nest.
Deeper, more permanent wetlands tend to be larger and thaw later in the spring. These provide habitat for hens with broods later in the summer, as well as molting areas for flightless birds. The density and size of wetlands across the Huron Wetland Management District is due in part to the physiographic regions within the District.
On the northeastern half of Huron Wetland Management District, The James River Lowlands are level to slightly rolling plains. Here, dense concentrations of temporary and seasonal wetlands exist. On the southwestern half, the hilly landscape of the Missouri Coteau encloses countless wetland depressions. Wetlands are scarcer on the Coteau Slope, where broken terraces and uplands descend to the Missouri River and its major tributaries.
The most obvious beneficiary of wetlands is wildlife. Wetlands are absolutely essential to waterfowl production, providing not only food and shelter, but also nesting sites. Wetlands also provide food and shelter year-round for many resident wildlife species, as well as provide important habitat for migrating birds.
However, the benefits of wetlands are not exclusive to wildlife. Wetlands act as "nature's sponges and filters" by attenuating flood waters, reducing erosion, removing sediments and pollutants, and recharging groundwater. Wetlands also support countless recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, bird watching, and photography. They also provide valuable livestock water and produce an abundance of forage.