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Slade National Wildlife Refuge

Much of North Dakota is pothole country, and the Missouri Coteau, that band of hills that borders the Missouri River on the east is prime duck country. Tucked away in Kidder County a bit south and east of Dawson, North Dakota is Slade National Wildlife Refuge which provides important habitat for ducks and other wildlife.

Slade National Wildlife Refuge consists of 3000 acres of upland prairie interspersed with wetlands and small lakes adjacent to Lake Isabel. As you might expect, it contains important nesting habitat for a wide range of birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds during the nesting season as well as during spring and fall migrations. That includes the threatened piping plover which is known to nest on the refuge. The prairie also supports a diverse assemblage of birds such as upland sandpiper, chestnut collared longspurs, Baird’s, and Le Conte’s sparrows. Well over two hundred species of birds may be observed on the refuge during the course of a year.

This refuge has an interesting history. Dawson, North Dakota, located between Steele and Tappen on the Northern Pacific Railway just off I-94 in Kidder County, was established in 1880. Due to abundant wetlands, it quickly became a destination for hunting, particularly for waterfowl. In the early 1900’s those hunters included George T. Slade, a Yale educated son-in-law of James J. Hill. He became hooked on the area. By the 1920’s Slade began to buy up property adjacent to Lake Isabel where he established a hunting lodge.

Slade became heavily involved with the passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929. About that same time, Fredrick Lincoln, head of the U.S. bird banding project, initiated an intensive duck banding effort on Slade’s property near Dawson. The data collected was sufficient to help biologists begin to understand the populations and movements of waterfowl. Today, of course, with the help of hunters, banding waterfowl remains an important source of information for waterfowl managers in North America. Upon Slade’s death in 1941 he left his Dawson hunting lodge property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become a refuge for wildlife.

If you are interested in checking out Slade National Wildlife Refuge, it is located about 3 miles south and half mile east of Dawson on the east side of Lake Isabel. There are no facilities on the refuge, with management under the umbrella of the Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Moffett. For more information, visit the refuge’s website.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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