National Wildlife Refuges
Perhaps like you, my summer has slipped away far too quickly. We sometimes take it for granted, but we North Dakotans have endless opportunities to get out and enjoy nature, however those opportunities are not restricted to summer. I was thinking of that recently when I drove past J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge near Upham.
What we now know as the National Wildlife Refuge System began with President Theodore Roosevelt’s executive order of 1903 establishing Pelican Island Bird Reservation in Florida. Now there are over 500 refuges in the nation, with North Dakota having more than any other state. That should tell us something about the wildlife of our state, particularly waterfowl, and their importance at the national level.
Among the list of guiding principles of the refuge system is this statement: “Wildlife-dependent uses involving hunting, fishing wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, and education, where compatible, are legitimate and appropriate uses of the Refuge System.”
So the National Wildlife Refuges are user friendly, and as one should expect, the refuges support a myriad of wildlife populations that are generally easy to observe, particularly during the spring and fall migrations. Furthermore, most North Dakotans live within easy driving distance to a refuge. Here is a short introduction to just a few of the refuges across North Dakota.
In many refuges waterfowl can be observed in phenomenal numbers during the fall migrations. Examples of this include Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge in Sargent County, Stewart Lake NWR in Slope County, Lake Zahl in Williams County, and Kellys Slough in Grand Forks County .
Chase Lake northwest of Medina is known as the home of one of the largest, if not the largest, nesting colony of white pelicans in North America.
On Lake Audubon near Coleharbor is the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge which supports lots of waterfowl and other birds as well as a new interpretive center.
North of Jamestown is Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge which encompasses wetlands and other habitats on and adjacent to the James River.
Observers have a chance of seeing the endangered piping plover as well as bald eagles and if you are lucky maybe even a whooping crane at Lake Ilo near Killdeer.
Located between Stanley and Bowbells, Lostwood has around 5,000 acres of wetlands and virgin prairie. Birders come here from across the nation to see Baird’s sparrow, Le Conte’s sparrow and Sprague’s pipit .
Make a point of visiting a National Wildlife Refuge near your home this fall. Many of the refuges have hiking trails as well as auto trails for your viewing. However you experience it, you are bound to be richly rewarded. Remember, these places are preserved because of their importance to wildlife, and during the fall migrations they can be some amazing places for enjoying a little Natural North Dakota.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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