An Independent Voice
Badlands Conservation Alliance is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the badlands and rolling prairie ecosystem comprising western North Dakota’s public lands, both state and federal. We provide an independent voice for conservation-minded North Dakotans and others who are appreciative of this unique Great Plains landscape.
It is also our mission to ensure that the public lands management agencies adhere to the principles of the laws that guide them and provide for wise stewardship of the natural landscapes with which the citizens of the United States have entrusted them – for this and future generations.
A Unique Responsibility
Founded in 1999 during the early public planning process for the Forest Service’s Land and Resource Management Plan for the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, we rallied alongside local neighbors and friends to speak out for conservation concerns in western North Dakota’s 1 million acre Little Missouri National Grassland. A tight core of charter members united to raise local voices, insuring that government agencies and leadership could not deny our call for ecologically functioning landscapes, protection of roadless areas, and designation of Wilderness in our beloved Badlands.
Founding members recognized their unique responsibility grounded quite literally in local heritage. Many had grown up on ranches or in small surrounding towns. To some the Badlands were the quintessential destination for family excursions – to hunt, to hike, to camp, to connect with each other and the Wild. For still others, rugged buttes and vast horizons of sky and grass meant solitude, a physical and spiritual renewal.
Raised in a cultural setting where out-spoken behavior is less than the norm and advocacy for changing values on public lands is seen as a threat to traditional livestock leadership and the energy industry, the Badlands Conservation Alliance concentrates on developing a support system amongst its membership while focusing on a new paradigm for ecological well being. We are a family.
In the early 1970s, over a half-million acres of the Little Missouri National Grasslands were inventoried as roadless. By the late 1970s, that number had been cut in half – mostly due to oil and gas development. The Record of Decision for a new Dakota Prairie Grassland Plan was signed in July of 2002. Less than 40,000 acres will be managed as suitable for wilderness, with an additional 102,000 acres as backcountry where motorized travel is the rare management exception. Not a single majestic sweep is enrolled under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
We Are a Family
Many of us grew up on these lands. Others grew up with them integral to our lives. BCA believes it is time to re-evaluate the status quo and look to the quality of our natural landscape to find new answers for tomorrow’s brighter day.
Western North Dakota:
Home of the Badlands Conservation Alliance
A Journey Home
Located south of the US/Canadian border in what is roughly the geographical center of the North American continent, the Little Missouri National Grassland is the heart of the Badlands Conservation Alliance. A powerful force in the sculpting of this landscape, the lower course of the Little Missouri River continues to shape and nurture its broad, starkly meandering cottonwood bottoms and the 1 million acres of buttes and rolling prairie at its breadth.
Journeying across the Missouri Upland that exemplifies much of western North Dakota or similarly approaching from eastern Montana’s broad stretching prairie, the unsuspecting traveler inhales deeply as the plains drop dramatically away into the maze of scoria buttes and ash treed coulees below. This is Badlands country.
Layers of sediment carried eastward by spectacular ancient rivers originating in the rising Rocky Mountains were deposited on strata left by even older primeval marshes and inland seas. The banded layers of rock, coal, clay, and soil appear clearly on southern slopes sparsely vegetated with sage brush, rubber rabbitbrush, yucca and saltbush. With a 180-degree turn to shadowed, moister northern slopes, the world changes to deep green Rocky Mountain juniper forest, thick with chokecherries, skunkbush sumac, and in the north, aspen stands. Green ash and box-elder in sheltered draws of ephemeral streams give way to shrubby flats of buffalo berry, sage, and grass.
The Badlands, and the rolling prairie that surrounds and transects them, are a world set off from the agricultural landscape of plow and field, fence and farm. They are a remnant of what 26th President Theodore Roosevelt once called “this land of vast and silent spaces”. Hidden below the sight-line of everyday life, they capture and romance the soul, turning time back to when things were wild.
Migrating and native birds use the mosaic of diverse habitat. Grassland sparrows – grasshopper, lark, clay-colored, Baird’s, chipping, vesper – find their niche. Ferruginous hawks wait knowingly at the mouth of prairie dog mounds while golden eagles soar in summer updrafts and turkey vultures rock in timeless watch. Startlingly bright eastern bluebirds and Lazuli bunting contrast with the yellows of chat and American goldfinch and western kingbird. Towhees scratch in woody copse as mourning doves and nighthawks greet the dusk. Great horned owls atop mature cottonwoods await their nocturnal feast of meadow vole and deer mouse, frequently joined in winter by the snowy owl shifting east and west across the Canadian plains, and into the prairie south of the border. Burrowing owls share prairie dog colonies with magpies and meadowlarks and the less common Sprague’s pipit.
Located along the ornithological line where east meets west, the Badlands boast a plethora of songsters, requiring field guides of both regional descriptions. Whooping cranes range through this landscape, as do pelicans and sandhill cranes. Belted kingfishers haunt the Little Missouri in half-light hours and greater yellow legs wade the shallow bars. High over grassland meadows, upland sandpipers and chestnut-collared longspurs announce themselves long before being seen. Sharp-tail grouse “chuckle” as they flush from grass cover or winter hiding spots beneath the snow. Sage grouse inhabit the gumbo and sagebrush flats of the southwestern Grassland.
Within the boundaries of the Little Missouri National Grassland, the North and South Units of 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park still harbor wild herds of bison. Where once there were millions, hundreds remain. Elk from the South Unit of the Park have dispersed into the Grassland. Found also in the Killdeer Mountains just half a county east, elk are re-taking land once theirs. Reintroduced Rocky Mountain bighorn sheet scale the hoodoo buttes in isolated habitat along the Grassland's north/south axis.
Mule and white-tailed deer, the prairie’s racing pronghorn, beavers, prairie dogs, coyotes, badgers and rarer bobcats and mountain lions, along with 41 other mammal species, continue to inhabit the diverse and varied landscape. Eighteen reptiles and amphibians exist here, in spite of a cold and dry climate. The shy prairie rattlesnake is a less common sight than the astoundingly quick yellow-bellied racer, and it takes a keen eye to spot the well-camouflaged short-horned lizard. The distinctive call of the male Western chorus frog resounds throughout spring and into early summer evenings.
Wild flowers abound in a seasonal display of color. From the earliest prairie crocus poking through March snows to goldenpea, prairie smoke, sagebrush buttercup, moss phlox, scarlet gaura, prairie coneflower, sawsepal penstemon, blue-eyed-grass, leopard lily, aromatic aster, evening primrose and owl’s-clover; cool and warm season grasses intermingle with a palette of ever changing color. Western wheatgrass, little bluestem, needleandthread, porcupine grass, buffalograss, sideoats grama, and the “flags” of blue grama wave in the prairie’s persisting wind.
To touch this land is to be touched by it. To be held in its gaze is to journey home to roots that reared us, and made us human. May we have the wisdom to cherish from whence we came.