I have been finishing up a book called The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960 by Douglas Brinkley, and then I received a press release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service entitled “National Wildlife Refuges Earn Consistent High Marks with Visitors, Finds National Survey.” The book ends with the story of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, so that topic was really on my mind. It got me thinking about to what degree Americans really think about them, and with that, to what extent are they committed to the long term sanctity of these areas? I am going to address these issues, but I thought I would first highlight the refuges that exist in the Midwest.
We will begin by introducing more than a dozen wildlife refuges in North Dakota. The terrain of North Dakota is for some an acquired taste. However, for those who appreciate the value of critical habitats and can find subtle beauty in nature, North Dakota has a lot to offer. Most of these refuges were established in the 1930’s.
It is my concern that with the expanse of time that has transpired since many of the efforts that were forged to promote creation of such wild places, that people might take them for granted. Their value to different people can certainly be different, but what they cannot withstand is compromising their purpose – the establishment of critical habitat for their wild inhabitants. This author’s view is that extraction industries are absolutely contradictory to this purpose. Pipelines, mining, oil and gas wells, etc. should be considered trespassers on these American treasures.
In east central North Dakota is the
Wetlands at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, in North Dakota, U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(15,934 acres). The refuge is not far from Jamestown.
The USFWS says that it “was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife” and “is an important link in a chain of refuges extending from the prairie lands of the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.” It is home obviously to waterfowl on their migratory journeys as well as a plethora of songbirds, but also “home to white-tailed deer, badger, skunk, beaver, raccoon, mink, muskrat, ring necked pheasant, and sharp tailed grouse.”
Fishing and hunting are permitted with some restrictions. Many other activities are permitted and popular, namely birdwatching and photography. Periodically, there are proposed encroachments on the area, such as the recent proposal of a power transmission line through the area. When this occurs, an environmental assessment is done followed by a decision on the project.
Located in west central North Dakota is the Audubon National Wildlife
Visitor Center Audubon NWR
Refuge(14,735 acres). The refuge is almost due north of Bismarck.
In 1956, after a dam was built on the Missouri River, it was determined that Lake Sakakawea had displaced much in the way of wildlife, and subsequently Snake Creek NWR was established. The purpose was to replace some of that habitat that was lost. It is worth noting that the normal surface area of Lake Sakakawea is 368,000 acres, so the wildlife refuge would have only replaced roughly 4% of what was lost.
The USFWS states that “In 1967, Snake Creek NWR was renamed Audubon NWR to honor John James Audubon, one of the great naturalists and wildlife painters of the 19th century. Audubon spent the summer of 1843 near this area collecting bird specimens and painting pictures of northern plains wildlife.” The purpose of the refuge as stated by the USFWS is to “provide food, water, shelter, and space for a variety of wildlife species. Refuge managers focus their efforts on managing the land to meet the needs of waterfowl and other migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and resident wildlife.”
The refuge is home to an incredible array of birds and also to many other animal species. The refuge has also played a part in various restoration efforts, perhaps most notably the success story of the Giant Canada Goose.
Located in central North Dakota is Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge (4835
2010 Pelican Banding at Chase Lake NWR (Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie)
acres). This refuge is also near Jamestown.
This wildlife refuge “was established as one of the country’s first wildlife refuges in 1908 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt.” Its original purpose was largely to protect the American White Pelican. In addition to the area’s designation as a wildlife refuge, it also has a wilderness area designation which puts certain restrictions on allowable uses within the refuge.
Located in northwestern North Dakota and on the Canadian border is Des Lacs
Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge
National Wildlife Refuge (19,544 acres). The closest town to the area is Kenmare.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the area is the hundreds of thousands of snow geese that populate the refuge each Fall. The refuge was established in 1935 by FDR. More than 25 bird species have been recorded in the confines of the refuge. Additionally, a multitude of other animal species are present, even occasionally including moose.
The refuge has a what is called a “Scenic Backway” which allows motorized travel. There is about 19 miles of excellent wildlife viewing along the route.
- Florence Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Florence Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Located in west central North Dakota, Florence Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the smallest (1888 acres). It is slightly northeast of Bismarck.
This is what the USFWS refers to as a “satellite refuge” and is managed by Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge personnel. The refuge was established in 1939 “…as arefuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife..” Despite the wishes of staff personnel to open the refuge to some hunting, particularly for whitetail deer to mitigate some surrounding management issues, the area remains closed to hunting at this time.
- J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge
J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge
Located along the Souris River in Bottineau and McHenry counties in north-central North Dakota, the 58,693-acre Refuge extends from the Manitoba border southward for approximately 45 miles in an area which was once Glacial Lake Souris. The refuge is near Upham.
The refuge was established in 1935, and according to the USFWS, “waterfowl commonly seen nesting on or near Refuge wetlands include gadwalls, blue-winged teal, mallards, and Canada geese. Other water-dependant birds include American white pelicans, western and eared grebes, white-faced ibis, and black terns. Upland habitat is home to Sprague’s pipits, Baird’s and LeConte’s sparrows, and upland sandpipers, along with sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, gray partridges, ruffed grouse, and wild turkeys.” Additionally, “many mammals live on the Refuge as well. Beavers, minks, muskrats, raccoons, and weasels make their homes in and near the marshes. The upland and sandhill areas provide shelter for white-tailed deer, moose, coyotes, badgers, red foxes, porcupines, and snowshoe hares.”
Hunting and fishing are permitted in the area under the regulations of North Dakota and in areas designated by the refuge. There are a couple of auto tour routes of the refuge as well as the 13 mile Souris River Canoe Trail.
- Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Located in northeastern North Dakota, Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge
was established in 1936 “as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.” It is managed by Devils Lake Wetland Management District. It is just north of Grand Forks on the border with Minnesota.
- Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge
Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge
Located in western North Dakota in the “Missouri Slope” region is Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge (4,034 acres). It is about 1 ½ miles from Dunn Center.
According to the USFWS, this smaller refuge “is home to approximately 226 bird species, 36 mammals, 9 reptiles/amphibians, and 11 different fish species.” The terrain is a mix of prairie, wetlands, and sloughs. The refuge was established in 1936 by FDR, around the time the dam creating Lake Ilo was built. In the 1980’s, the dam was in bad shape and had major reconstruction completed making it sound once more.
- Lake Zahl National Wildlife Refuge
Located in extreme northwest North Dakota is Lake Zahl National Wildlife
Lake Zahl National Wildlife Refuge
Refuge (3,739 acres). It is nearest to the small town of Zahl, or about 30 miles north of Williston.
This refuge was established in 1939 and is now managed as a satellite refuge under the Crosby Wetland Management District. Grazing is permitted as part of the management practices of the refuge and various managed hunts are allowed throughout the year. It is primarily a nesting and stopover area for migrating waterfowl.
- Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Located in southcentral North Dakota, this 22,300 acre refuge is characterized by a 15 acre “saline basin” known as Long Lake (it is 18 miles long). The lake is shallow, reaching maximum depths in the wet seasons of seven feet. The nearest town is Moffit.
Because of the uniqueness of the refuge, the area is home to many types of waterfowl and even to some rare species. This area was designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” in 2001. While hunting is permitted in this refuge, the taking of any type of migratory bird is strictly prohibited. There are also a variety of fishing opportunities for species such as northern pike, yellow perch, and walleye.
- Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge
Located in northwestern North Dakota, about half way between Minot and Williston, is Los
Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge
twood National Wildlife Refuge. The overall acreage is 26,904, with a 5,577 ac
re portion within that was designated in 1975 as a wilderness area. This area has also been designated a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the American Bird Conservancy.”
This area is a typical pothole prairie region and is home to a variety of bird species including rare ones like Bairds Sparrow. In addition to the bird species present, the area is home to white-tailed deer, badger, weasel. White-tailed jackrabbit are common.
- Slade National Wildlife Refuge
Slade National Wildlife Refuge
Managed under the authority of Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Slade National Wildlife Refuge is approximately 3,000 acres and is comprised of land once owned and then donated by a railroad executive named G.T. Slade. It was a sporting club until turned over to the use it now enjoys.
The refuge is accessible to the public only by walking in, and hunting for deer is the only permitted hunting activity.
It is located not far from Dawson.
Located in northcentral North Dakota, about 30 miles northwest of Minot, is Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge (32,092 acres). It was established in 1935, as were most of the North Dakota wildlife refuges, as a habitat primarily for migratory birds.
Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge
9600 acre Lake Darling is the main feature of the refuge, but is characterized by beautiful rolling hills in the Souris River valley. The American Bird Conservancy has designated the Refuge as a Globally Important Bird Area. Lake Darling is also designated as critical habitat for the endangered piping plover.
According to the USFWS, “Hunting programs are designed to harvest the yearly increase in wildlife numbers to prevent overpopulation.”
Check back for our next state in Wildlife Refuges of the Midwest