Save the meadowlarksIn his recent column, Lloyd Omdahl was spot on in writing that the state’s top priority right now is to meet the burgeoning demands for services and infrastructure in western North Dakota.
In his recent column, Lloyd Omdahl was spot on in writing that the state’s top priority right now is to meet the burgeoning demands for services and infrastructure in western North Dakota.
Omdahl also identified three other areas for long term, strategic attention: education, economic development and tax reform. I would add to the list the need to preserve more of the state’s natural heritage.
We once were truly a prairie state, with an abundance of grassland and wetland animals and plants. This ecosystem is now virtually gone from the Red River Valley and increasingly is disappearing across the state because of energy development and the conversion of grassland to cropland.
To provide a cogent example of what is happening: Breeding bird surveys consisting of 50 stops along 25-mile routes have been run across North Dakota since the late 1960s. One route I run in Walsh County extends from near Nash to near Johnstown, and another in Pembina County runs north from near Bowesmont to just west of Pembina.
Both routes now are through extensive cropland in contrast to the mixed farming practices of the earlier years. Although more than 100 meadowlarks were sometimes recorded on the Bowesmont route in the 1970s, neither the Bowesmont nor Nash survey has recorded a Western Meadowlark — the North Dakota state bird — for several years.
For 10 years now, it has been my privilege to guide visitors attending the Prairie and Pothole Birding Festival in Carrington. This year, 70 people from 24 states attended the festival. Such visitors are in awe at the grassland and wetland birds that we still have, at the courtship displays and nesting activities they see. But those of us serving as guides are finding it increasingly difficult to show the species our visitors most want to see.
I urge that we look at the natural areas we still have and ask two questions: How can we ensure the survival of the best of what is left? And how can we best manage our grassland, wetland and water resources over the long-term?
We are in a position to make the financial investment needed to conserve a remnant of what Native Americans knew and early settlers found upon arrival in North Dakota.
Saving places for Western Meadowlarks along with their companions of a living, functioning, prairie ecosystem, also will save an environment we humans treasure and find enriching.
Birdwatcher and retired biochemistry professor at UND