Oakville Prairie Field Station celebrated as new wildlife and grassland management area


David L. Dodds

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Oakville Prairie Field Station celebrated as new wildlife and grassland management area

An important piece of North Dakota’s biological heritage that recently got even more important was celebrated Sept. 18 during a ceremony at the UND-controlled Oakville Prairie Field Station, just west of the UND campus in Oakville and Fairfield Townships, N.D.

There, the UND Biology Department joined public and private nature advocacy groups welcomed a new era for the 960-acre plot of native tallgrass prairie as a North Dakota Game and Fish Department Wildlife Management Area, a Grand Forks County Prairie Project Grassland Management site and an Audubon Important Bird Area.

UND President Robert Kelley was among 100 people on hand to celebrate the new designations.

“As we understand better the interactions between the systems inside our plant and animal worlds, I think it helps us as human beings understand our role in helping to sustain these systems for the benefit of generations to come,” Kelley said.

Since 1958, the field station has been a vital resource for UND’s education, research and outreach mission. It is among the largest of its kind and serves as a living natural date base for understanding the ecology of the Northern Plains.

“We are interested in talking about not only this natural heritage that we have, but also how can we use this natural heritage to better facilitate and support North Dakota society,” said Isaac Schlosser, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology.

Kathryn Yurkonis, a grasslands ecologist at UND, added, “insights gained from research at this site will help us better understand and manage North Dakota’s grassland and agricultural areas now and in the future.”

The event also recognized the support of multiple public and private stakeholders dedicated to developing a coordinated land management network across Grand Forks County.

“You can’t do it by yourself,” said Terry Steinwand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “We can do way more together than we can separately. We just have to keep these kinds of partnerships going, and we can educate ourselves at the same time.”

Sarah Wilson, Audubon Society Conservation Program coordinator, agreed.

“Without these partnerships and the community involvement, the protection of these lands would be extremely difficult.”

Pioneering efforts

UND also used the event to remember two pioneering faculty members, Vera Facey and Paul Kannowski, both of whom recognized early the significance of the Oakville Prairie Site to North Dakota biological history. Kannowski, who died just two weeks prior to the event, was a longtime member of the UND Biology Department. Facey was a professor of botany at UND from 1947-1979.

Facey was aware of the site’s importance as far back as 1955, according to Schlosser.

“Professor Facey was far ahead of her time because she was the one who said that this is a unique part of the heritage of North Dakota and that it needed to be protected,” he said.

Though UND biologists had been conducting research at the Oakville Prairie Site since the late 1950s, it wasn’t until 2004 that UND took full control of the site. Schlosser credits Kannowski for making that happen, nearly a 40-year effort.

“Paul was politically astute,” Schlosser said. “He was the one that pulled the strings to start getting control of this piece of land.”

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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