Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A mosaic of terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) habitats for plants and both resident and migratory wildlife species historically occurred in South Dakota. General vegetation(plant) types are a function of soil type, moisture amounts and temperature ranges, and include mixed grass plains, tallgrass transition, tallgrass prairie and wooded (deciduous and coniferous) areas. Major plant types in South Dakota correspond loosely with major physiographic (physical geographic) regions of the state.
The eastern part of the state is called the Central Lowland and consists of the Minnesota River Red River Lowland, the Coteau des Prairies, the James River Lowland, the Lake Dakota Plain and the James River Highlands. This area is characterized by tallgrass prairie, rolling hills, potholes (wetlands) and lakes. The area west of the Central Lowland is known as the Missouri Plateau or Great Plains. The Coteau du Missouri), the Missouri River Trench, the Northern Plains, the Pierre Hills, the Black Hills, the Southern Plateaus and the Sand Hills occur in this portion of the state.
The greatest number of species considered rare in the state occur in three regions of South Dakota: the Coteau des Prairies, the Missouri River Trench and the Black Hills, each having experienced extensive habitat loss or alteration.
Construction of dams and channelization of the Missouri River for flood control, navigation and power generation have altered or eliminated riparian (along the edge of water) habitats such as sandbars and floodplain forests, as well as underwater aquatic habitats. Of an original 500 miles of riparian bottomland timber along the Missouri River, less than 80 miles of forested floodplain remain. These alterations have directly affected the breeding habitat of the piping plover, interior least tern, whooping crane and wintering habitat of the bald eagle. Spawning habitats and movements of the pallid sturgeon, paddlefish, sturgeon chub, sicklefin chub and finescale dace have been drastically altered or eliminated. Spiny softshell and false map turtle habitats have also been affected.
Conversion of native prairie to agricultural use is a second major cause of habitat loss or alteration. It is estimated that more than 75% of the land in eastern South Dakota is under cultivation. Grain crops replaced tallgrass prairie. Draining of wetlands eliminated habitat for fish species and wetland-dependent birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Remaining wetlands, streams and lakes have experienced siltation (increased amounts of sediment) and exposure to chemicals. Northern redbelly dace, banded killifish, trout-perch and central mudminnow have lost habitat vital to their existence. The Dakota skipper has little suitable habitat remaining in the state. Tallgrass and mixed grass prairies depend on frequent fire to prevent succession to woodland. Natural fires are rare and remnants of native prairie are threatened. The American burying beetle is no longer known to occur in South Dakota. Habitats of the northern redbelly snake, lined snake, eastern hognose snake and Blanding's turtle are limited naturally or because of conversion of habitat for other uses.
Poisoning of species perceived as a nuisance or threat to land production and the failure to appreciate the complexity of the prairie dog ecosystem have resulted in endangering or eliminating black-footed ferrets and swift fox.
In the Black Hills, forestry practices, mining and recreational activities have eliminated or disturbed species and habitats, including those of the mountain lion, black bear, longnose sucker, fringe-tailed myotis, marten and bald eagle.
Ironically, some habitat types have increased. Planting of trees and shrubs in towns as well as in rural shelterbelts provide wooded habitat that was previously only available along streams or river bottoms. Construction of stock watering ponds in western South Dakota has expanded habitat for wetland-dependent birds and other species.
It has become increasingly apparent that the unintentional, careless or deliberate disregard for native species and their habitats is no longer acceptable to our population at large. The commitment to rehabilitate habitats and reintroduce species where they formerly existed reflects positively on society and signifies our increased concern for wise resource stewardship.
Ensuring a dynamic, living environmental legacy of native species for future generations in South Dakota is the ethical and legal responsibility of all of its citizens.