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An Environmental Overview of North Dakota: Past and Present

Woodlands and Brushlands


Woodland communities originally composed only about 1.5% of what now is North Dakota. The largest block of woodlands occurred in the Turtle Mountains, a high moraine on the northern edge of the state. Common large mammals included white-tailed and mule deer, elk, and black bear. Hydric woodlands occurred where water tables were high or spring floods common. Hydric woodlands existed in great amounts along the Missouri River and below certain large escarpments such as the Pembina Hills. Common trees were cottonwood, black ash, and peachleaf willow. Mesic woodlands occurred in areas of somewhat greater than average soil moisture such as were found along river terraces, on north and east facing slopes, in protected draws, and in the interior areas of the Turtle Mountains. These forests were dominated by various combinations of quaking aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, American elm, green ash, hackberry, basswood, and boxelder. Xeric woodlands dominated by various combinations of bur oak, green ash, western black birch, ponderosa pine, limber pine, and rocky mountain juniper occurred at scattered locations throughout the state. Common sites for xeric woodlands were south and west facing slopes in the Turtle Mountains, along the bluffs overlooking the major rivers, and in the upper portions of draws and ravines.

An unknown proportion of North Dakota was composed of shrubland or brush land communities. Hydric brushlands dominated by various short willows, red-osier dogwood, and speckled alder existed along rivers, seepage areas, and near wetlands. Mesic brushlands composed of mixtures of bullberry, serviceberry, chokecherry, plum, hawthorn, wolfberry buckhrush, western rose, and smooth sumac were found in sites environmentally similar to mesic woodlands. In western North Dakota, and at high elevations in the Turtle Mountains and a few other escarpments, occurred xeric brushlands. Various subtypes included areas dominated by hazelnut, black sage, greasewood, silver sage, yucca, saltbush, skunkbush sumac, prostrate juniper, and shrubby cinquefoil.

Woodland and brushland communities were generally found in areas of increased soil moisture, decreased fire frequency, and increased soil disturbance.


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