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The Rare Ones

JPG-ND woodlands.


Historically, only about one or two percent of North Dakota was forested and today natural woodlands cover less than one percent of the state. Original woodlands covered river valleys, ravines, and large hilly areas such as the Turtle Mountains and Killdeer Mountains. Presently, native woodlands are found in the same locations but many have been destroyed or degraded.

Woodlands are islands of unique habitat in a mostly treeless state. Even though woodlands are scarce, they harbor much of our flora and fauna. For example, over one-fourth of North Dakota's rare plant species are found in woodlands. Woodlands found along rivers are often referred to as riparian woodlands and those found on badland slopes are called woody draws.

Many of our less common species were or are dependent on woodlands for their survival. For example, black bears need wooded areas for denning sites. Bears can survive in woods without prairie, but not in prairie without woods. Also, many birds species such as woodpeckers and some warbler species would not be present in North Dakota without woodland habitat.

Many riparian forests were inundated by man-made lakes. The loss of these forests meant the loss of species dependent upon them. Other woods were cleared for crops or houses. Many remaining woods are degraded by heavy grazing. Some species associated with woodlands are common or adaptable enough to survive these changes. Other species have not survived and are gone from the state. These, as well as species still found in the state, but which are suffering as a result of woodland loss and degradation, are listed below. (See North Dakota OUTDOORS, July 1986 for additional forest resources information.)

Woodland Animals:


    Passenger Pigeon


    Whip-poor-will, Marten, Wolverine, Gray Jay


    Merlin: This small falcon likes areas near natural groves of trees, especially conifers, or the edges of woodlands where it can hunt in surrounding brushy or grassy fields. Only about five nests have been recorded in North Dakota. There might be more merlins in the state if they were to adapt to shelterbelts and windbreaks that have been planted, but so far this has not happened.

    Black Bear: It may seem unusual for such a common North American species to be regarded as endangered in North Dakota. Black bears originally occurred over nearly all of the state, and were especially common in the Turtle Mountains, Red River Valley, Pembina Hills, and along many of the wooded streams in the east. With settlement, however, the species was nearly extirpated by hunting, trapping, and loss of habitat. There are a few recent records from Traill and Pembina counties.

    Fisher: The fisher was originally abundant in northeastern North Dakota and reported in the Turtle Mountains and along the Souris, Missouri, and Yellowstone rivers. Early fur traders reported the annual take of fisher frequently exceeded that of mink and other common forbearers. Heavy trapping pressure, along with loss of habitat, decimated the state population. There has been one recent (1976) report of a fisher from Pembina County and one (1985) from Bottineau County.



    Osprey, American Woodcock, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Western Wood-pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Bell's Vireo, Solitary Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Western Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, White-throated Sparrow

    Gray Treefrog


    Virginia Oppossum, Pygmy Shrew, Keen's Myotis (Bat), Long-eared Myotis (Bat), Long-legged Myotis (Bat), Small-footed Myotis (Bat), Southern Flying Squirrel, Gray Fox, Bobcat, Elk, Moose

    Cooper's Hawk, Long-eared Owl, Eastern Bluebird, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-breasted Chat

Woodland Plants:

JPG-Dutchman's breeches.


    Sedge Family:

    Sedge (Carex formosa): This grass-like plant is known in only Richland County, where it grows in aspen and ash woodlands. It is at its western limits of distribution in North Dakota. It ranges from southern Quebec, Canada to Connecticut and west to North Dakota.

    Sedge (Carex scirpoidea var. scirpiformis): This species is known from Dunn, McHenry, and Rolette counties. It has been found growing on rocky ridge tops, in aspen woodland in the Killdeer Mountains and in low meadow in Rolette County. Throughout its range the plant occurs on rock outcrops, in bogs, low meadows and along shores of streams and lakes, and prefers calcium rich soils. Its range is from Greenland to Alaska, south to New York, Michigan, North Dakota, and California.

    Adder's-tongue Family:

    Moonwort (Botrychium minganense): The moonwort was collected in Burke County in a wooded area and in Ransom County in rich sandy woodland. These are the only recorded populations for North Dakota.

    Grass Family:

    Spikebent (Agrostis exarata): Spikebent is known from a streambed in an aspen woods in the Killdeer Mountains in Dunn County. It occurs from Alberta, Canada to Arkansas and south throughout much of western United States. It grows in moist open ground. Ricegrass (Oryzopsis pungens): This species is known only from Cavalier County, where it grows on shale slumps on the southside of the Pembina Gorge. It occurs from Labrador to British Columbia south to Connecticut, Indiana, South Dakota, and Colorado and is usually found in sandy and rocky soil.

    Fern Family:

    Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris): The oak fern is a tiny, lacelike fern, known from only Ransom and Pembina counties where it grows in rich sandy woods. It is found south to Virginia, West Virginia, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, and Oregon growing in rich woods.

    Mezereum Family:

    Leatherwood (Dirca palustris): This species is known from only Cavalier County, where it grows as an understory shrub in the woodland valley of the Little Pembina River. The plant is known from Quebec to North Dakota, south to Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.


    Sweet Jarvil (Osmorhiza claytonii), Cluster Sanicle (Sanicula gregaria), Annual Fleabane (Erigeron annuus), Senecio (Senecio eremophilus), Broad-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens), Sicklepod (Arabis canadensis), Spring Cress (Cardamine bulbosa), Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), Dodder (Cuscuta umbrosa), Bur Cucumber (Sicyos angulatus), Sedge (Carex backii), Sedge (Carex convoluta), Sedge (Carex foenea), Sedge (Carex leptalea), Sedge (Carex richardsonii), Meadow Horsetail (Equisetum pratense), Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum), Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Spurred Gentian (Halenia deflexa), Wild Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), Dogberry (Ribes cynosbati), Gooseberry (Ribes inebrians), Ground Nut (Apios americana), Small Bellwort (Uvularia sessiliflora), Circaea (Circaea alpina), Loesel's Twayblade (Liparis loeselii), One-flowered Cancerroot (Orobanche uniflora), Bromus (Bromus carinatus), Bromus (Bromus kalmii), Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus), Whitegrass (Leersia virginica), Lady Fern (Athyriumfilix-femina), Wood Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), Crested Wood Fern (Dryopteris cristata), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Hooked Buttercup (Ranunculus recurvatus), Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala), Smooth-barked Cottonwood (Populus X acuminata), Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa), Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Selaginella (Selaginella rupestris), Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra), Dog Violet (Viola conspersa).

JPG-Annual Fleabane.

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