National Wildlife Refuge
Consisting of over fifty thousand acres on and adjacent to the lower reaches of the Souris River in north central North Dakota is J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge runs from about 10 miles north of Towner northward to the Canadian border just east of Westhope. It is the largest refuge in the state.
J. Clark Salyer may also be the state’s most diverse refuge. The refuge contains a variety of vegetation types including upland prairie, riparian forest, marshes, and stands of aspen and oak savannah. Although most of the Souris River within the refuge has been dammed to form large shallow pools supporting marsh vegetation, the river flows freely on the southern portion of the refuge which supports riparian forest.
As you would expect, the area supports a wide variety of wildlife species from moose and muskrats to sharptail grouse, bald eagles and some rather uncommon or rare species of prairie sparrows. The refuge is most widely known for waterfowl, but it is important to other birds such as shorebirds, and birds of the prairie. The refuge has been designated as a regional site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and was also among the first designated “Globally Important Bird Areas” by the American Bird Conservancy.
One of the many interesting parts of the refuge is an area of sand dunes east of Bantry. These dunes are remnants of near-shore and off-shore sands associated with glacial Lake Souris. Not surprisingly these sand dunes support an interesting mix of plants including grasses with names like sand bluestem, prairie sandreed, and sand dropseed. There are even cacti in this desert-like environment. The dune area also supports scattered bur oak and some small stands of aspen.
If you are in the areas stop by the refuge. It is user friendly. There are two auto tours, a canoe trail, a grassland trails, and sandhills walk area, and more. There are lots of good opportunities to enjoy nature here. The headquarters is just off highway 14 a couple miles north of Upham.
You might be wondering who J. Clark Salyer was. He was the first chief of refuges and is generally considered to be the father of the national wildlife refuge system.
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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