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December No. 5

Reforestation Along the Red River of the North in North Dakota

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The Red River of the North and tributaries experienced the flood of the century in the spring of 1997. Damage was extensive, and 8,000 acres were entered into perpetual floodplain easements. Agencies and producers initially planned extensive reforestation since much of the easement area had been originally forested. A wide assortment of planting stock types and planting designs were used. By the third year of the program, tree planting efforts had diminished due to establishment failures and high costs. Most subsequent easements were seeded with an assortment of native and introduced forbs and grasses. Newly emerged forest cover, estimated at about 5,000 acres, resulted primarily from natural regeneration. Though elevation changes along the Red River are often quite small, slight changes (as little as 10 inches) can result in completely different vegetation. Higher elevations have pure stands of switchgrass and big bluestem. Mid level elevations consist primarily of dense, tall cottonwood stands. Lower elevations are dominated by sedges, reed canarygrass and annuals. These different vegetation zones occur within as little as 6 vertical feet. Other factors influencing vegetation establishment include: time of flooding, duration of flooding, existing ground cover, previous land use, time of grass seeding or tree planting, weed pressure and deer. Though similarities exist in cover types 10 years after the 1997 flood, each property has a unique species mix, health and vigor of current vegetation. To date, it appears natural produces very small dense stands of two to five species. This article is a collection of observations over the past ten years. The many variables within this riparian zone make statistical analysis of reforestation efforts problematic.

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