Ask any knowledgeable bird person in town about the public accessibility of forested land and you'll likely hear some grumbling. Carefully examined, we have to admit there is very little of it outside of city parks. For outdoors enthusiasts, it's quite limited in fact.
A couple years ago I spent several months in the state of Nevada. The federal government controls 86 percent of that state, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 67 percent of it. For those seeking recreation, it means nearly the entire state of Nevada is a playground. A person can almost literally go anywhere without trespassing.
Fact is, North Dakota, generally, and Cass County, specifically, is highly geared toward a thriving agricultural economy. That's the way it has been and will be for the foreseeable future. I'm not suggesting that change. I'm merely pointing out that, with huge tracts of land under private ownership, options for outdoor folks looking to 'get away from it all' start to shrink.
Oh sure, there are federal wildlife refuges, and one national park in the state. But all told, federal land in North Dakota makes up slightly over 3 percent according to the BLM. But even more than land, in general, wooded acres are quite scarce.
I remember reading years ago that North Dakota has the least wooded acres per square mile of any state in the U.S. That is very likely true. It's mainly due to our geography and our continental climate. So, forested land is very limited here to begin with. Outside of the Turtle Mountains and patches of the Killdeer Mountains, the only consistent wooded property in the state is along riparian zones. That means water courses.
The major rivers here - Red, Sheyenne, Maple and Wild Rice - are not all that large. But strung along their lengths are mile after mile of trees that have persisted for many, many years. Surprisingly, these tight, wooded corridors provide a habitat highway for an amazing array of migrating birds plus other forms of wildlife. For a brief few weeks in spring, and again in fall, these small pathways can be teeming with winged life of all kinds.
In a tongue-in-cheek way, local birders refer to Cass Country as the "black desert." It's a slangy way of describing the fact that, outside of migration, there is a relatively small diversity of bird life here. That's what makes it frustrating for some. Bird enthusiasts know the birds are out there during these times, they just can't get to them. That may be changing slightly.
The past several years of flooding in and around our area has exposed the folly of building next to these flat prairie waterways. Local and federal governments are slowly implementing plans to mitigate the effects of high water levels by creating a greenway. Using FEMA grant money, land is being purchased along the Wild Rice and Red Rivers for that purpose. These tracts of land are to remain undeveloped, thereby creating a buffer for saving flood-fighting dollars, reducing flood damage and creating public green space.
West Fargo is somewhat immune to these developments due to the protection afforded by the Sheyenne Diversion. But within the city limits of Fargo, buyouts are evident in several areas. Lots now stand empty where houses used to sit. Roger Gress, Director of the Fargo Park District, sees opportunity for healthy landscapes. "We need to be in tune to Mother Nature because these areas can't be developed," he said. "Our plans are more about using the land as it exists."
In the coming years, hikers, bikers, joggers and walkers may very well enjoy extended trails along the Red River through zones once occupied by housing. And those looking to venture into little bits of woods may find more acres available to explore. Forest, after all, is quite scarce in these parts. Having a little more available to the public is rather nice.