Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region


Long Lake Headquarters signRecognized as a prominent landmark, Long Lake played host to Plains Indians and early European settlers who camped and hunted waterfowl and other game along its shores.

historical Long Lake Entrance SignLocated near the community of Moffit, in south central North Dakota, Long Lake is is up to 2 miles wide and 16 miles long. The Refuge contains 22,300 acres, 16,000 of which are lake bottom, with rolling prairie and cultivated uplands on the remaining 6,300 acres.

patrolling for botlism in 1940'sIn the 1930's, the Service built two dikes dividing Long Lake into three water management units. Through manipulation of water levels, the incidence and severity of botulism outbreaks has been reduced.


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was born out of circumstances brought on by economic depression and was authorized in 1933 to bring hope, relief, and meaningful employment to millions of young men.

constructing dike between Unit I & Unit IIAt Long Lake, the CCC, comprised largely of local residents, played an important role in the Refuge's development. Participants worked primarily on water development, wildlife conservation, and erosion control. They constructed three dikes to control water levels, and built small check dams in ravines creating ponds for wildlife. Trucks and teams of men and horses moved rock and gravel to form dikes and 19 duck islands in Units I and II. An office/shop building, residence, and other related structures were also built in the 1930's using native field stone. These structures are still in use today.


The Refuge attracts many animals, both resident and migratory. In late August, spectacular concentrations of Franklin gulls gather in the evenings, while mid-September through late October witnesses thousands of migrating sandhill cranes and occasionally rare endangered whooping cranes roosting on the large, flat lake bed. Late October, depending on weather conditions, also marks the peak of waterfowl populations with the arrival of up to 25,000 ducks and 20,000 Canada, snow, blue, and white-fronted geese. During the spring and fall, bald eagles are often spotted as they follow migrating waterfowl.

Pintail, blue-winged teal, gadwall, and mallard are the Refuge's principal nesting ducks, followed by American wigeon, green-winged teal, shoveler, redhead, canvasback, and ruddy ducks.

Other nesting species found on the Refuge include American bittern, piping and upland plover, and killdeer. Spotted sandpiper, willet, marbled godwit, American avocet, and Wilson's phalarope usually nest on lowlands adjacent to dikes and marsh areas, while ring-necked pheasant, gray partridge, and sharp-tailed grouse are common in suitable upland habitat. Two species of significant interest to bird watchers, the Baird's and sharp-tailed sparrows, can also be found.

Because Long Lake NWR is managed for wildlife diversity in addition to its primary objectives of botulism control and waterfowl production, the Refuge also provides lake, marsh, and upland habitat for such species as white-tailed deer, coyote, fox, raccoon, striped skunk, white-tailed jackrabbit, cottontail rabbit, muskrat, mink, beaver, and badger.

About 250 upland acres are cultivated to provide food and nesting habitat for migratory birds and resident wildlife. Wheat, corn, millet, and sunflowers are planted for food, while stands of mixed sweet clover, alfalfa, and wheat grasses provide nesting habitat. Native and tame grass sites are periodically grazed or hayed to rejuvenate vegetative cover. Local farmers and ranchers assist with upland management in these cooperative programs. Prescribed burning is also used to enhance marsh and upland habitat productivity.


The Refuge is open during daylight hours and offers a variety of opportunities to visitors, including birdwatching, wildlife observation, photography, fishing, hunting, environmental education, and interpretation.

Optimum periods for viewing waterfowl, water, and shore birds are September through October and April through May. Many bird species can be seen from public roads on the Refuge, especially in the fall. Birdwatchers and wildlife photographers may be authorized by the Refuge Manager to hike and place blinds within the Refuge. Bird lists and current public use guides are available at Refuge Headquarters.

"The Butte" makes an excellent observation area and is located one mile east of Highway 83, on the north side of Long Lake.

photo of people fishing in Long Lake Creek on RefugeThe lake and creek provide fair fishing opportunities for northern pike and bullheads. Portions of the Refuge are open to sport fishing.

Upland bird and white-tailed deer hunting are allowed. Special Refuge regulations apply to the hunting programs on portions of the Refuge during the fall and winter.



Long Lake Wetland Management District (District) is located in the south central North Dakota encompassing the counties of Burleigh, Kidder, and Emmons. The topography varies from the hilly pothole country, known as coteau, to the relatively flat land of the Missouri River slope. The District is administered out of the Long Lake NWR, from which publicly owned Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs), private land easements, and several refuges are managed.


WPAs are lands purchased and managed to provide high quality wetlands and nesting cover for waterfowl and scores of other species. The Districts WPAs vary in size from 20 acres to over 1,800 acres. All are open to public activities, including hunting, fishing, trapping, birdwatching, hiking and photography. Motor vehicles are not allowed except on designated access routes and parking areas. Access, for the most part is walk-in only.


Wetland easements protect privately owned wetlands from draining, filling, and burning activity. Landowners retain ownership of the wetlands and may hay or farm the wetland basins when conditions allow. The Service purchases the right to protect these wetlands. The easements are perpetual and stay with the land despite changes in ownership. Recently, the Service has been working with landowners to improve productivity of these wetlands with nesting structures, upland leases, and other cooperative ventures through the Partners for Wildlife Program.


Grassland easements, used in combination with a wetland easement, protect privately owned grasslands from alteration (farming) and from haying before July 15 of each year. Landowners retain ownership of the wetlands and may graze or open the land to hunting or trapping. The Service purchases the right to maintain grassland. The easements are perpetual and stay with the land despite changes in ownership.


Easement Refuges are private properties which have been designated as NWR’s by Presidential Order to manage water and protect wildlife. Established in response to declining populations during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930's, Easement Refuges provide stable water areas and safe havens for migrating waterfowl. Land within these Refuges is often farmed or grazed, but is usually closed to hunting.


The sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) provides funding for the purchase of Refuges, WPAs, and wetland easements. Since 1934, waterfowl hunters 16 years and older have been required to purchase a Duck Stamp prior to hunting in the United States. Recently, an increasing number of non-hunters have purchased the beautiful stamps, supporting acquisition of these areas.


Wetlands are unique habitats that provide a diversity of habitat, food, cover, and water for a great variety of wildlife. As a result, wetlands offer a number of educational and recreational benefits, such as hunting, trapping, bird watching, photography, and enjoyment of the subtle beauty of a prairie setting.

Other benefits to people include flood and erosion control and improved water quality. During runoff periods, wetlands slow water down, allowing it to filter into the groundwater to replenish wells, soil moisture, and aquifers. Because wetlands collect many nutrients and sediments, water is purified during the process of filtration. During drought years, wetlands may provide the only water source for livestock and crops.

Complex Facts:

The Complex includes Long Lake NWR and Long Lake WMD.

Long Lake NWR

  • Established: 1932
  • Acres: 22,310 of fee title

Long Lake WMD 

  • Established: 1961
  • Three-county District includes: Burleigh, Emmons, and Kidder Counties
  • Waterfowl Production Areas: 77 units totaling about 21,789 acres
  • Wetland easements: 966 contracts protecting 95,892 wetland acres.
  • Wildlife Development Areas: 1 unit totaling 792 acres.
  • Grassland easements: 1 contract totaling 320 grassland acres
  • Eight easement and small fee refuges: 10,715 acre

Complex Objectives

  • Preserve, restore, and enhance federally listed threatened and endangered species and their habitats.
  • Provide the life requirements of waterfowl and other migratory birds.
  • Provide the life requirements of other resident wildlife species.
  • Provide opportunities for high quality wildlife-dependent recreation.
  • Protect and preserve cultural resources.

Complex Public Use Opportunities

  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife observation
  • Photography
  • Environmental education
  • Interpretation

Last updated: August 8, 2011