The Prairie Coteau

A Shared Landscape

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The Prairie Coteau

"This wonderful feature, which is several hungred miles in length, and varying from fifty to a hundred in width, is, perhaps, the noblest mound of it's kind in the world; it gradually and gracefully rises on each side, by swell after sweel, without tree, or bush or rock ... and everywhere covered with green grass ..."

~~ George Catlin. 1844 describing the Prairie Coteau in
Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians.

One of the last great grasslands of the United States, The Prairie Coteau encompasses more than two million acres from southeastern North Dakota across South Dakota to southwestern Minnesota. Most of the land is privately owned ranch and farm land.

Glaciers formed the Coteau, and the resulting rolling topography has created a rich mosaic of habitats.  Grasslands cover the hilltops and east-facing valleys are forested with oak, basswood and maple.  Fens occur wherever mineral-laden ground water seeps to the surface.  Numerous ponds and lakes provide additional aquatic habitats.  The Coteau supports abundance wildlife including game birds such as sharp-tailed grouse.  They find the expanses of prairies and pastures suitable for their courtship displays and the grasslands provide the protection needed for the nests and chicks. 

While many wildlife species are declining, some are thriving.  River otters, for example, are making a comback in South Dakota along secluded stretches of the Big Sioux River.

Much of the Coteau's rocky soils and steep slopes discouraged the plow.  As a result, the area is home to some of the largest remaining blocks of northern tallgrass prairie in the continental United States.  Native grasses not only provide excellent habitat for wildlife, they also make for good grazing.

Invasive species such as leafy spurge are a big obstacle to managed grazing.  This noxious weed spreads relentlessly and chokes out native plants. Cattle won't eat it -- its milky sap is toxic.  Biological control has proven to be highly effective in comgatting spurge.

Prairie is most productive for wildlife and cattle when its utilized and managed well.  Scheduled rest and distrubances such as grazing or fire allows the prairie to rejuvenate itself.

Taken from The Nature Conservancy "The Prairie Coteau"
Protecting nature. Preserving life.
The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota
1101 West River Parkway, Suite 200
Minneapolis, MN 55415-2191
(612) 331-0700

Prairie Coteau