USGS - science for a changing world

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

  Home About NPWRC Our Science Staff Employment Contacts Common Questions About the Site

The Rare Ones

JPG-ND rivers and streams.

Rivers and Streams

Typical of a glaciated area, North Dakota has many more lakes and wetlands than rivers and streams. Rivers and streams, however, are critical lifelines for the people of the state, supplying water, transportation, and recreation, while also serving as critical environments to many plants and animals.

All of the state's rivers or streams have been impacted by man. Early explorers noted the clarity of the prairie streams. There was an abundance of freshwater fish and aquatic wildlife. Today most of these streams are silt and chemical-laden from agricultural runoff, have been channelized into straight-flowing ditches, or are inundated by reservoirs.

These impacts have significantly changed the flora and fauna. Where there was once a wide diversity of fish species, there are now bullheads and carp. Where river otter played along the banks, domestic livestock grazing and streamside tillage alters habitat.

More than fish are dependent on rivers and streams. Some species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plants would not be found in this state without the existence of rivers and streams. Several species have already disappeared from the state because the quality of their habitat has greatly diminished. Others are close to disappearing, and some have survived the change. Those species of most concern are listed below.

Animals of Rivers and Streams:


    Lake Sturgeon


    River Otter: Once common in lakes and rivers throughout Alaska, most of Canada and practically all of the United States river otter populations were decimated by overtrapping and loss of suitable habitat. With increased protection, the species has become more abundant and has begun to recognize many areas in its former range. In North Dakota, however, the river otter continues to be a rare species. There have been only four reports of otters in the state since 1958, from Williams, Burleigh, Traill, and Mountrail counties.

    Bald Eagle: The bald eagle is a fisheater that lives near large lakes and rivers. It was thought to be extirpated from North Dakota for 30 years until a nest was found in McLean County in 1975. Now it has been 11 years since this species has nested, and energy development in western North Dakota lessen the chances that it will return as a breeding bird in our state.

    Least Tern: The principal habitat for least tern in North Dakota is the sandbars on the Missouri River. The nests are very vulnerable to accidental damage by humans who use the islands for recreation. Increased recreational activity along the river and water level fluctuations could easily extirpate this species. Probably no more than 40 pairs remain in our state.


    Pallid Sturgeon: The historic range of the pallid sturgeon probably included most of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the lower reaches of a few of their major tributaries. Its present range seems to be restricted principally to the Missouri River, the lower Yellowstone River and the lower Mississippi River. The few documented reports indicate that this species of sturgeon may never have been very plentiful. Most recent reports it North Dakota come from the flowing stretch of the Missouri River between Garrison Dam and the headwaters of Lake Oahe. Habitat modification, primarily dam construction and channel modification projects, have been identified as the principal threat to the pallid sturgeon. Historically, overfishing may have contributed to its decline also.


    Smooth Softshell Turtle, False Map Turtle


    Shortnose Gar, Blacknose Shiner, Rosyface Shiner, River Shiner, Red Shiner, Finescale Dace, Longnose Sucker, Greater Redhorse, Central Mudminnow, Yellow Bullhead, Flathead Catfish, Logperch, River Darter.


    Water Shrew

    Green-backed Heron

    Paddlefish, Shovelnose Sturgeon, Sicklefin Chub, Sturgeon Chub, Lake Chub, Stoneroller, Hornyhead Chub, Pugnose Shiner, Northern Redbelly Dace, Pearl Dace, Blue Sucker, Banded Killifish

Plants of Rivers and Streams:


    Mustard Family:

    Yellow Cress (Rorippa calycina): The only North Dakota collection of this species is from Fort Union, at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, collected in July 1855. It was also collected along the Yellowstone River in 1890 at Custer, Montana. It was found in the wet river bank soil. Recently, it has also been collected in Wyoming. This species is being considered for the federal endangered species list.

    Sedge Family:

    Sedge (Carex pedunculata): This species is known from only Cavalier County. It grows in oak and birch woodlands in the Pembina Gorge. The plant is usually found growing in rich woods. It ranges from Newfoundland to North Dakota and south to South Dakota, Iowa, and Virginia.

    Figwort Family:

    Common Yellow Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatus): This species is known from only one location in Grand Forks County, where it grows along the Turtle River. It ranges from the Yukon, Alaska south through Alberta, British Columbia, through the western mountain states to New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, and California.


    Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum heterophyllum), Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum), Wolffia (Wolffia columbiana), Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), Bladderwort (Utricularia minor), Naiad (Najas guadalupensis) Naiad (Najas marina), Pond weed (Potamogeton amplifolius), Water-thread Pondweed (Potamogeton diversifolius), Pondweed (Potamogeton filiformis), Floating-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton praelongus), Pondweed (Potamogeton strictifolius), Sheathed Pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus).

Previous Section -- Wetlands
Return to Contents
Next Section -- References

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Webmaster
Page Last Modified: Saturday, 02-Feb-2013 07:21:04 EST
Sioux Falls, SD [sdww54]