More than half of 72,000 wildlife management area acres along the Missouri River that were once a haven for wildlife and a destination for hunters will likely be devoid of each this fall.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists say nearly 40,000 acres – some of the most pristine public hunting lands in the state – have suffered from months of flooding.
Jeb Williams, wildlife resource management supervisor in Bismarck, said 15,000 acres of the Oahe Wildlife Management Area have been inundated with water, essentially making it swampland that is at least temporarily unattractive to wildlife.
“This area south of Bismarck-Mandan has been extremely popular with deer and pheasant hunters, because it provides some of the best wildlife habitat in the state,” Williams said. “But this year’s flood has changed the dynamics dramatically.”
There are 20-plus WMAs from Williston to south of Bismarck on the Missouri River System, and many were entirely or partially flooded through spring and summer.
Kent Luttschwager, wildlife resource management supervisor in Williston, said hunters will have to adapt this fall, as wildlife populations that have called the Missouri River bottoms home are now displaced because of high water.
“Lewis and Clark WMA is popular with hunters because it offers some of the most prolific wildlife habitat in the region,” Luttschwager said. “But exceptional wildlife habitat has been covered in water for several months.”
Dan Halstead, wildlife resource management supervisor in Riverdale, said the spillway channel running through Riverdale WMA near Garrison Dam was originally 30 yards wide, but is nearly 200 yards wide today.
“But this area was only covered in water for maybe a week as the water quickly made its way back into the channel,” Halstead said. Because of this, he said access is gradually coming around, and will continue to improve through September.
“We are going to have some vegetation issues, but the river bottoms in this area is in better condition than Bismarck and Williston, just because of the prolonged effects of overland flooding in those areas,” Halstead said.
While no one can predict how much property will be lost to this year’s record flood, Luttschwager said it will take time to recover.