The Badlands of western North Dakota is a unique region for North Dakota outdoors and a focal point for state Game and Fish Department research and studies.

“It’s just a remarkable place for both critters and people,” said Jeb Williams, Game and Fish wildlife division chief. “The research projects provide the Game and Fish Department with additional information about the animals being studied, which is a benefit to managing those species in the best interests of the people of our state.”

A recent North Dakota Outdoors magazine article highlighted some of these ongoing or completed studies.

Elk on the move

Last winter, the Game and Fish Department, in cooperation with the University of Montana, captured 90 elk – 70 cows and 20 bulls – and fit them with GPS collars in an effort to better understand elk distribution and movements in the Badlands.

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“This research project will help us manage elk by better understanding their home range and survival rates,” Williams said. “It will also help us put together better survey protocols to better understand the number of elk that are out there, so we are able to provide as many hunting opportunities as possible for these prized once-in-a-lifetime animals.”

Mule deer and energy

Energy development in the Badlands has in places altered the landscaped inhabited by mule deer and other animals.

This study, completed a few years ago, included fitting 90 mule deer with radio collars. The collars allowed researchers to track the animals and see how they reacted to changes in the landscape and to see if landscape disturbance influenced mule deer reproduction.

“There are times during the year when mule deer are pretty sensitive, such as during the fawning season and during the winter months,” Williams said. “Some of the research showed that if there can be some coordination between conservation groups, the Game and Fish Department and the oil and gas industry, in terms of planning and timing of some of the developments, that there are some benefits to mule deer.”

Bighorns fill rugged niche

Bighorn sheep don’t have a big footprint in western North Dakota because the especially steep, rugged habitat the animals rely on is limited.

“It’s probably one of the species we get the most comments on, the most photos of from people who are out hunting or simply recreating in the Badlands,” Williams said. This is an animal that people really admire and really like to see in the wild.”

Bighorn sheep focus in the Badlands of late has followed a bacterial pneumonia outbreak detected in 2014.

“A lot of research has shown anytime you have a pneumonia outbreak, that there is anywhere from 30 to 90% mortality in the population,” Williams said. “We are closer to 30%, which is good news. We feel better today about where our bighorn sheep population is compared to 2014.”

The complete article is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov

Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

Doug Leier
Doug Leier