Little Missouri National Grasslands


I didn’t get drawn for a mule deer tag in unit 4B this year. I am going to miss a lot of things about hunting that unit along the Montana border in the Cartwright, Charbonneau, and Trotters area. But the real draw for me to hunt that area is the opportunity to walk the hills and draws of the badlands, on the publically accessible Little Missouri National Grasslands.

The Little Missouri National Grassland consists of around one and a quarter million acres in McKenzie, Billings, Slope and Golden Valley Counties. The badlands are widely regarded as the crown jewel of natural beauty in North Dakota, and the Little Missouri National Grasslands provide abundant public access to that beauty. One can hike some the most scenic country in our region: buttes, draws, sweeping prairie, wooded areas and thickets, and of course the Little Missouri River. Wildlife watching is excellent. There are elk, mule and white-tail deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, eagles, burrowing owls, and the list goes on. The bird checklist for Theodore Roosevelt National Park lists over 180 species, and the grasslands would be comparable in its avian diversity.

National Grasslands are administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The Little Missouri National Grassland used to be part of the Custer National Forest, but is now under the umbrella of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands which is responsible for the National Grasslands in North and South Dakota and also includes the Sheyenne National Grasslands, Cedar River National Grasslands, and the Grand River National Grasslands in South Dakota. The main office is in Bismarck with district offices in Watford City and Dickinson

It is open to the public for a variety of outdoor uses such as hunting, hiking, and the like. As one would expect, there are some restrictions on public use. Also, like other National Grasslands it is not one contiguous block of public land. There is an interspersion of public and private land within the National Grasslands, so a map can be quite helpful. They can be purchased from the U.S. Forest Service.

Some of you may be familiar with the 97-mile long Maah Daah Hay Trail that goes through this area. White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota also lies within the Grassland south of Amidon. A popular area for campers and recreationists is Sather Dam, located east of Sidney, Montana at the intersection of highways 68 & 16.

Needless to say, managing the National Grasslands involves trying to balance lots of interests on these lands ranging from recreation to grazing to oil development. That is no easy task. But hopefully the area can be managed in a way that will preserve the ecological integrity of the area and it will continue to be a piece of relatively natural North Dakota.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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