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America's Northern Plains

An Overview and Assessment of Natural Resources


Wetland is an important component of the landscape and ecosystems of the Northern Plains region. Wetlands provide floodwater conveyance and retention, offer groundwater recharge and discharge, and trap sediment, nutrients, and pesticides. They play a critical role as habitat for waterfowl, shore birds, mammals, invertebrates, insects, and plants.

The Northern Plains contains about 10% of the nation's wetlands. The 1992 National Resources Inventory (NRI) estimates that nearly 15.5 million acres of wetland are on nonfederal lands in the region. These wetlands are 4.6% of the region's total nonfederal lands. Overall, a weak but net increase (0.3%) of inventoried wetland occurred between 1982 and 1992. Only North Dakota showed a net loss (14,700 acres).

Approximately 2.2 million wetland acres are associated with cultivated cropland. Sixty-four percent (10 million acres) of the region's wetlands are in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana and are associated largely with the "prairie pothole" region.

The Northern Plains region has approximately 7.5 million acres of wetland subject to the 1985 Food Security Act (FSA) swampbuster regulations. Seventy-three percent (5.4 million acres) of those FSA wetlands are in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

The 1992 NRI net increase in wetland suggests significant progress has occurred in stabilizing wetlands, given that wetland losses between 30 and 50% occurred from 1780 to the 1980s (Dahl et al., 1991). The wetland stability estimate has been attributed primarily to wetland protection and enhancement programs administered by federal, state, and local agencies and by private organizations over the past 10 years.

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