Safety Island Sanctuaries
North Dakota has more national wildlife refuges than any other state, 63 in total. On this date in 1935, the press was alerted to the establishment of two more of these "safety islands" in North Dakota – Des Lacs and Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuges. The two refuges were established to benefit migratory waterfowl. North Dakota sits in the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region, where half of North America's migratory waterfowl nest and breed.
The Des Lacs refuge originally comprised 24,000 acres near Kenmare in a sloping river valley. Today the refuge is a smaller, but still sees up to 300,000 snow geese during fall migration. Kenmare holds an annual Goosefest to honor this great migration. Civilian Conservation Corps workers improved Des Lacs during its establishment, planting vegetation for food and cover, diverting water, fencing its boundaries, digging ditches and more.
The Arrowwood refuge, north of Jamestown, lies in a small prairie valley and includes a chain of three lakes in the James River drainage basin. The refuge contains hills, marshes, prairie and water. The refuge is popular with ducks of all kinds, including canvasbacks, mallards and pintails. Canada geese and pelicans also frequent the refuge, which includes about 16,000 acres.
The Biological Survey worked to impound spring floodwaters at Arrowwood with dams and dikes, catching water to expand nesting cover and to encourage plant growth. CCC workers at Arrowwood created recreational facilities and truck trails. They also implemented a tree planting program.
Today the refuges are popular with outdoor enthusiasts, from birders to photographers, and many refuges feature visitor centers. National wildlife refuges in North Dakota total a combined 450 square miles, close to the size of Lake Sakakawea. The range of flora and fauna is quite diverse, everything from the gatherings of pelicans at Chase Lake to the state’s largest refuge, the J. Clark Salyer refuge on the Souris River. Extending south from the Manitoba border, it’s 45 miles long!
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura