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Whiting’s Guide North Dakota Wetlands ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH & SAFETY

Wetlands of North Dakota

Photo credit:

Photo credit: USFWS

The aerial photo, above, provides a sense of the number and density of wetlands within North Dakota.

Much of central and northeastern North Dakota lies in the Prairie Pothole Region, an area that is about 1,000 miles long and 300 miles wide and includes portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. The blue shaded area in the map illustrates the area of North Dakota that lies within the Prairie Pothole Region. The region was created by the Wisconsinan glacier that existed from about 40,000 years ago to 12,000 years ago. The glaciation covered most of North Dakota, except the southwest portion of the state and created millions of potholes when the glacier retreated. The Wisconsinan glacier was the driving force in creating North Dakota’s wetlands.

Photo credit: USGS

Ruddy Duck

Whooping Crane

Northern Leopard Frog

Beaver Cover Photo: Whooping Crane

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Types of Wetlands Several types of wetlands that exist within North Dakota include: • Ephemeral—Gradually lose accumulated water from the first few weeks of the spring snowmelt. Because of their shallow depth (< 1 foot) these wetlands are used by breeding spring migrant water birds for the invertebrate fauna that develop. • S  easonal—Typically contain water well through the growing season, except during drought conditions. This class of wetlands is abundant throughout the Prairie Pothole Region (see photo to right), and produces excellent hay that is harvested during the summer. • Semi-permanent—Maintain water almost year round. These wetlands range in depth from 2 to 4 feet and can be up to 5 acres in size. Cattails Photo credit: USFWS or bulrushes are common plants in this type of wetlands. Semi-permanent wetlands form the principal nesting areas for all of North Dakota’s overwater nesting waterfowl. • Permanent—Closed basins that are sufficiently deep enough to hold water year round. These wetlands may go dry only after a prolonged drought that would extend for several years. They can range in size from several acres up to Lake Sakakawea. They will have a central deep open-water area, followed by irregularly shaped concentric rings of deep marsh, shallow marsh, and wet meadows, respectively, extending out from the open water. • Alkali—Open areas of water characterized by the occurrence of shallow saline water. These wetlands provide the primary habitat for several species of migrant shorebirds and waterfowl with different types of invertebrates for foraging rather than fresh water wetlands. • Riverine—Include those with periodically (flood) or continuously moving water within or adjacent to a river channel. The periodical moving-water wetlands are productive for the life cycle of small fish, such as minnows, suckers and insects.


For more information please contact Jen Stoelzel at Last Update: September 2019

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Indicators of Wetlands All wetlands have three common characteristics: 1) wetland-type soils, 2) water, and 3) plants that can live in water and saturated soils. Army Corp of Engineers policy requires that at least one of each feature of the three characteristics must be present for an area to be identified as a “wetland.” Each of the characteristics is discussed below.

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Soil—Soils that are characteristic of wetlands are called hydric soils. These soils are typically saturated with water for long periods of time during the growing season where the presence of oxygen is greatly reduced or absent (anoxic). Because the soils have reduced amounts of oxygen, changes in soil color (particularly gray or black), the presence of organic material, streaking of soil colors in shallow pits, and soil horizon development are all indicators of wetlands-type soils. Soils are typically called gleyed and often have mottling where reduction/oxidation reactions involving iron or manganese create spots or streaks of red in the gray-colored soil (see photo on right). A review of your county Natural Resources Conservation Service manual will identify most hydrictype soils in your area.

Photo credit: Ecosystem Research Group

Hydrology—Shallow groundwater at or very near the surface during the growing season can be considered a characteristic of wetlands. The water must be present for a sufficient period of time to influence the soils and types of plants within a wetland. Visual indicators of wetland hydrology include standing or flowing water, sediment deposits that may coat leaves or objects on the ground during seasonal flooding, rafted debris against trees, and observations of inundation. Plants—Indicator species of plants that are always found in wetlands are called obligate wetlands (99% of the time) or facultative wetlands (67-99%). Plants found in areas that are not typically wetlands are called facultative uplands or obligate uplands. While the above wetland characteristics provide a general guideline for identification of wetlands, you should consult with a qualified wetlands scientist to definitively identify and delineate the extent of wetlands using all three characteristics.

Photo Courtesy of WENCK

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Indicators of Wetlands (cont) Wetland indicator plants have evolved to withstand extended periods of saturated conditions and occasional dry conditions. Common, easily identifiable wetlands indicator plant species in North Dakota include: Cattails—(Typha spp.) A widespread, very dominant wetlands plant characterized by its prominently displayed seed heads on spikes that burst into thousands of light, fluffy, air-lofted seeds. Photo credit: USFWS

Prairie Cordgrass—(Spartina pectinata) This tall (3 to 8 feet) perennial grass has long coarse leaves with serrated and sharp edges. Cordgrass has broad wetlands adaptability for floodplains, wet meadows, and seasonally dry areas. Photo credit: Univ. of Wisconsin- Stevens Point

Smartweed—(Polygonum amphibium) Or Water Pepper, occurs in shallow water and grow to 3 feet tall. The plant has reddish-jointed stems with narrow lance-shaped leaves. Flowers begin as greenish and turn whitish or light pink in color as they mature. Photo credit: Robert H. Mohlenbrock USDA-NRCS

Slough Sedge—(Carex oatherodes) This sedge grows abundantly in wet habitats that spreads by rhizomes. It usually grows 2 to 3 feet in height and the flowers are hidden by purplish-black scales. The seeds are very popular with all types of birds (waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, and game birds). Photo credit: Gary Larson USDA-NRCS

Bulrush—(Scirpus spp.) Also known as grassweed, this plant has grass-like leaves and a cluster of small spikelets, often brown in color that bloom in July and August. Photo credit: USFWS

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Yellow-headed Black Bird

Wetlands are Important because: • Serve as flood control by storing flood water and slowly releasing it. Sediment from runoff due to rain showers or floods is trapped by the vegetation and then the clear water is slowly released back to the hydrologic cycle, similar to a sponge. • Provide groundwater recharge by allowing surface water to recharge underlying near-surface aquifers and contribute to stream flow. • Reduce impacts of pollution by consuming organic compounds or sequestering (binding) non-organic compounds in either the plant material or saturated soils. Pollutants can include farm animal runoff, overuse of fertilizers or herbicides, dirt road runoff, etc. • Provide recreational opportunities such as fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching. • Provide a unique wildlife habitat for many different ecosystems. Numerous migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, take advantage of wetlands for raising their young and as a resting location during migration. The wetlands can be considered a complete ecosystem beginning with the microbes below the surface in the organicrich saturated soils to insect larvae, dragonflies, frogs, turtles, and muskrats as a few of the animals that take advantage of the wetlands habitat.


Definition of Wetlands Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, wetlands are defined as areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

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What You Can Do to Protect Wetlands Whiting employees and contractors must protect wetlands and the environment. Each employee and contractor must be familiar with the protection measures below: • Check with the local Army Corp of Engineers office before conducting any construction activities within or adjacent to any wetlands. • Implement and maintain identified best management practices on your construction storm water permit to reduce the sediment that may flow from your project site during storm water events. Naturally vegetated buffers should be constructed between developed areas and wetlands to minimize the potential of pollutants running into the wetland areas. • Participate and contribute to wetlands preservation organizations. Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation is a significant contributor and participant to Ducks Unlimited, a national organization that serves to preserve wetlands through wetland management agreements with landowners, conservation easements, grasslands and wetlands restoration, and cooperative wetlands research with state and federal wildlife agencies. • Plan development and road construction with wetlands in mind so as not to cause fragmentation or reduce the flow between wetlands. • Participate as a citizen in wetlands restoration activities through community involvement of cleaning up buffer zones of trash and accumulated silt and identifying and pulling invasive wetland weeds. Replant wetlands with native varieties of plant species suitable for the type of wetlands being restored.

Photo Courtesy of SWCA Environmental Consultants

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Wetlands Regulations Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977 authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill materials into “waters” of the United States. Although Army Corps has administrative responsibility for Section 404, ultimate authority for determining the Act’s reach rests with the US EPA. Army Corps and EPA have entered into a Memorandum, of Agreement on delineation authority, which specifies that the Army Corp will make most jurisdictional determinations in administering Section 404, EPA reserves the authority to determine the jurisdiction in special cases. Either agency can make wetland delineations, but the responsibility for determining and knowing the boundaries of wetlands rests on the regulated entities. Because Army Corps offices lack the resources to conduct wetlands delineations, most entities pay private consultants to conduct delineation. Delineations are valid for three years. While the definition of “waters” has been subject to court review, any type of activity within or adjacent to a wetland should be assessed by a qualified wetlands expert or the ACOE. Intrusion into a wetland, either directly or inadvertently, can result in significant penalties. The purpose of this brochure is to educate Whiting employees and contractors on the Wetlands of North Dakota. Information provided by the following sources: • US Army Corps of Engineers, Regional Supplement to the Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual: Great Plains Region (V2). March 2010 • US Army Corps of Engineers. North American Digital Flora: National Wetlands Plant List. • US Army Corps of Engineers. Recognizing Wetlands, 1998 • Wetlands Delineation Training Manual and Workbook. Richard Chinn Environmental Training, Inc., Brandon, Florida. 2013 • US Geological Survey, North Dakota Water Science Center, Wetlands of North Dakota. • US Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. A resource for publications on wetlands and prairie ecosystems. • North Dakota Natural Resources Trust: • PBS Wetland Learning Media:

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Whiting’s Guide North Dakota Wetlands  

Whiting’s Guide North Dakota Wetlands