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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Ecoregions of
North Dakota
South Dakota

43. Northwestern Great Plains

43b. Little Missouri Badlands Level IV Ecoregion


North Dakota Ecoregions

South Dakota Ecoregions

43a. Missouri Plateau

43b. Little Missouri Badlands

43c. River Breaks

43d. Forested Buttes

43e. Sagebrush Steppe

43f. Subhumid Pierre Shale Plains

43g. Semiarid Pierre Shale Plains

43h. White River Badlands

43i. Keya Paha Tablelands

43j. Moreau Prairie

43k. Dense Clay Prairie

  The Northwestern Great Plains ecoregion encompasses the Missouri Plateau section of the Great Plains. It is a semiarid rolling plain of shale, siltstone, and sandstone punctuated by occasional buttes and badlands. Native grasslands persist in areas of steep or broken topography, but they have been largely replaced by spring wheat and alfalfa over most of the ecoregion. Agriculture is limited by erratic precipitation patterns and limited opportunities for irrigation.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The Badlands look like Poe wrote." The gothic erosional landscape of the Little Missouri Badlands formed when the Little Missouri River was diverted along a steeper course by Pleistocene glaciers. The soft silts and clays of the Sentinel Butte and Bullion Creek Formations continually melt off the sparsely vegetated conical hillslopes. The collapse of caverns created by burning coal seams also hastens erosion. Rocky Mountain juniper grows on the hillslopes; cottonwood and green ash appear in the riparian areas. Ephemeral, flashy stream flow creates steep, downcut channels in the soft sediments along the tributaries to the Little Missouri River. Grazing and recreation are the dominant land uses. This region also includes the Killdeer Mountains.


Area (square miles): 2552

Elevation/Local Relief (feet): 1850-3000/250-500

Unglaciated. Highly dissected erosional landscape of conical hills. Mass wasting and slumping widespread. Most streams ephemeral. Flowing streams carry heavy sediment loads.


Surficial Material and Bedrock
Paleocene sediments of the Bullion Creek and Sentinel Butte Formations.


Order (Great Groups)
Entisols (Ustorthents, Ustifluvents, Ustipsamments), Mollisols (Haploborolls)

Common Soil Series
Cabbart, Fleak, Zeona, Boxwell, Dogtooth Maltese, Patent, Havre, Glendive, Wolfpoint

Temperature/Moisture Regimes
Frigid/Ustic (Aridic inter-grade)


Precipitation - Mean annual (inches)

Frost Free - Mean annual (days)

Mean Temp. - Jan. min/max; July min/max, (°F)

Potential Natural Vegetation

Shortgrass prairie: western wheatgrass, blue grama, little bluestem, prairie sandreed. Rocky Mountain juniper in draws and on north slopes. Scattered cottonwood in riparian areas.

Land Use and Land Cover

Cattle ranching, wildlife habitat and recreation. Bare hills with scattered junipers; grasslands in bottonlands.

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