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North Dakota Great Plains Project
73 New Wetlands Created in Southwestern North Dakota

by Kevin Willis

canvasback photo by Dave McEwen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceThanks to a $108,000 North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant and more than $414,000 in partner contributions, 73 new wetlands now dot the rangeland landscape of southwestern North Dakota. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with Ducks Unlimited, Inc., North Dakota Game and Fish Department, North Dakota Wetlands Trust, and North Dakota ranchers, recently completed the North Dakota Great Plains Project, which established more than 759 surface-acres of shallow-water ponds. The project is part of a Service program that will create over 10,000 acres of wetlands across the region.

Wetlands created by the project range in size from a 1.7-acre pond in Hettinger County to a 215-acre lake on Pretty Rock National Wildlife Refuge in Grant County. The average size is 8.3 acres. In most cases, wetland creations and restorations are located within broad expanses of native rangeland or tame pasture and are associated with existing or newly created wetland areas, providing optimum prairie-wetland habitat for a variety of wildlife. Thirty-year agreements secured with 40 private landowners assure the long-term protection of these wetlands.

Because of the substantial seed bank occurring at individual project sites, newly created or restored wetlands have quickly developed healthy populations of cattail, smartweed, bulrush, and other wetland vegetation. The project primarily benefits ducks, including mallards, American wigeons, northern pintails, and blue-winged teal, but giant Canada geese have established nests on several project sites, and numerous species of marsh birds and shorebirds have been observed during spring and fall migration.

Although the principal purpose for creating the wetlands is to provide habitat for wildlife, the project serves many other equally important needs. Ranchers, who comprise the majority of landowners on whose property the new wetlands are located, now have good sources of water for their livestock, allowing better dispersal of the cattle across existing rangeland. For communities at large, by capturing and holding water following snowmelt and heavy summer thunderstorms, the new wetlands help to regulate downstream flood events, control erosion, and improve downstream water quality. The project boosted local economies as well, because local construction companies or ranchers were contracted to do much of the restoration work.

The North Dakota Great Plains Project demonstrates how wildlife and agricultural interests can successfully work together to accomplish a common goal. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act provided the needed catalyst for getting the project on-the-ground.

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