Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update 4: New Water and Old Houses

Written by Pam Garrettson
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pam Garrettson.The weather that kept us from working for several days brought new water to the last two air-ground surveys we have done. But because most ducks have settled onto their breeding territories, many of these new wetlands were vacant. The high winds (gusts to 60 mph) that followed the rain dried out the roads pretty well, which made our travels easier.

Most of the areas we survey are highly altered by human activity, but humans are few and far between. Why? When the Dakotas were first settled, the township (36 square miles) was envisioned as a unit that could support enough farmers to support a town full of people to supply their needs and the businesses and institutions (a school, stores, bars, churches), that keep the social fabric together. As farmers generally “got big or got out,” smaller farms went by the wayside and smaller towns went into decline. Some farmers cultivate an entire township themselves. So it’s little wonder when the town school closes its doors, or the café or the gas station shuts down. Usually the bar (where you can usually get milk, bread and eggs too) is the last to go. Blessedly, the café in Plaza, ND, is still operational and happens to be on one of our air-ground survey routes. They serve great milkshakes and caramel rolls. Yes, I got both. Just supporting the local economy.

My hometown of Baltimore encompasses about a township, but has a population about the same as all of North Dakota. I get culture shock going back and forth. But the abandoned farmsteads we encounter oddly remind me of home, where we suffer more than our share of boarded up houses, empty factories and population loss. A character in the series “The Wire” says of Baltimore, “Your city falls apart so beautifully.” The same could be said of the small towns and abandoned farms of the Dakotas.

Pronghorn antelope meet John Deere in northern North Dakota. Photo by Joshua J. White.

Pronghorn antelope meet John Deere in northern North Dakota. Photo by Joshua J. White, USFWS

Wind power in North Dakota, old school.  Photo by Joshua J. White.

Wind power in North Dakota, old school. Photo by Joshua J. White, USFWS

An abandoned farmstead on the Guthrie airground in North Dakota.  Photo by Joshua J. White.

An abandoned farmstead on the Guthrie airground in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua J. White, USFWS