Sheyenne National Grassland

The Sheyenne National Grassland is an area of approximately 70,250 acres of public land associated with 64,769 acres of privately owned land in Ransom and Richland Counties, North Dakota.

Recreational opportunities on the grassland include hunting, hiking, horseback riding, nature observation, photography, primitive camping and even some canoeing and fishing along the Sheyenne River. Approximately 25 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail will traverse the Sheyenne National Grassland when constructed. This trail is designated for non-motorized use and is part of a 3,200-mile, congressionally designated trail extending from Crown Point Historic Site on Lake Champlain in New York to Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota. The fall colors in the hardwood forest along the Sheyenne River are outstanding. Before leaf fall, the Sheyenne River area offers the photographer spectacular settings that rival the colors and beauty of the East Coast.

Despite its relatively small physical size, the Sheyenne National Grassland has a wealth of unique species, features and opportunities. The Sheyenne is host to a population of the Greater Prairie Chicken. Though there are other small populations of the Greater Prairie Chicken in North Dakota, this is the only viably reproducing population in the state. The Greater Prairie Chicken is protected by state law, and, as such, both prairie chicken and sharptail grouse hunting is prohibited on the Sheyenne National Grassland.

The Sheyenne National Grassland provides habitat for a number of white-tail deer. The area is very popular with hunters during both bow and rifle hunting seasons, as well as with those who enjoy just watching or photographing wildlife. The area also has an abundance of turkeys and many non-game birds and animals. On rare occasions moose have been seen in the area. A large complex of beaver ponds occurs near the Sheyenne River, and the area is managed as a Research Natural Area because of the unique environment created by the ponds. The Sheyenne also provides habitat for two unique butterfly species, the Dakota Skipper and the Regal Fritillary.

The occurrence of the Western Prairie White-Fringed Orchid on this grassland is one of the largest populations known to exist. This very delicate and interesting species is in the process of being placed on the list of threatened and endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The elm-basswood forest type found associated with the Sheyenne River on the grassland is the most westerly extension of what is most normally found only in the eastern United States. Other plant species unique to North Dakota occur on the Grassland and, in many instances, along springs that flow into the Sheyenne River. Most of these species are common in other states but are very rare in North Dakota.

Over the years much of the timber along the Sheyenne River has been removed and the area has been converted to farmland. Because these woodlands have been lost, the Forest Service does not permit regular timber harvest. However, to keep the stands healthy, some trees are cut periodically for firewood or to increase mast (nut) production to benefit wildlife.

The Sheyenne National Grassland area is characterized by sandy soils that were originally deposited as a delta of an ancient river as it emptied into glacial Lake Agassiz. Extensive farming of these Dakota Sandhills under the Homestead Entry Act, combined with the great drought of the mid-1930's, resulted in "dust bowl" conditions and extreme hardships on the landowners.

To mitigate the consequences of the dust bowl conditions on the land and its residents, the Sheyenne River Land Utilization Project was established in 1935 under the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration), and a resettlement plan for the area was completed that same year. In 1937 the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act provided for the acquisition of the submarginal farm lands, and administration of the Land Utilization Project passed from AAA to the Resettlement Administration. In 1938 administration of the Project was transferred to the SCS (Soil Conservation Service), whose charge was to ensure the rehabilitation of the drought-devastated grasslands.

In 1941 at the urging of the SCS, the local landowners formed the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association, a nonprofit organization whose members desired to graze cattle on the surrounding federal land. Members of the Association invested much time and many dollars to re-establish vegetative cover on the land and to change land use practices. In 1954 with the rehabilitation job essentially complete, administration of these lands was again transferred, this time to the Forest Service. The project was first assigned to the Chippewa National Forest and, finally, to the Custer National Forest on June 1, 1966. The Sheyenne River Land Utilization project was formally named the Sheyenne National Grassland in 1960.

The Sheyenne National Grassland of today presents a sharp contrast to the grassland condition of the 1930's. The federal repurchase and resettlement programs, and the rehabilitation and management efforts of the Soil Conservation Service, the Forest Service, and the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association have ushered the lands from a condition of windblown dunes and farmlands to well-grassed, productive rangelands.

Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association
Cattle grazing continues to be a significant activity on the Sheyenne National Grassland. The Sheyenne supplies seasonal forage for approximately 11,000 mature cattle and their calves, providing over 80,000 animal unit months during the grazing season. This grazing activity contributes to maintaining the local rural economy by providing for cattle belonging to more than 80 family ranchers who are members of the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association.

The Forest Service has continued a partnership effort with the Sheyenne Valley Grazing Association, not only in managing the range resources of the Sheyenne National Grassland, but also in improving wildlife habitat, providing recreational opportunities and contributing to the continued existence of many unique features and species. This management is dependent on pasture grazing systems, so when traveling on the Sheyenne National Grasslands, please leave gates as you find them.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Aug 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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