The 1930's brought drought to the Great Plains and disaster to waterfowl. Populations of ducks plummeted to all-time lows and conservationists began to act. A flamboyant political cartoonist from Iowa, Jay N. "Ding" Darling, became director of the newly formed Bureau of Biological Survey and chose J. Clark Salyer as his top aide.
Darling helped push the Duck Stamp Act through Congress in 1934, requiring every waterfowl hunter 16 years and over to annually purchase and carry a Federal Duck Stamp. Proceeds from the sale of Duck Stamps were earmarked to buy and lease waterfowl habitat.
In 1935, Salyer used Duck Stamp receipts to purchase three refuges, including Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, on the loop of the Souris River. Two groups, the Civilian Conservation Corp and Works Project Administration, provided large labor forces which built dikes, roads, fences, and water control structures on the refuges. Men were hired locally as well as from other states. Camp Maurek, a military-style camp located on Upper Souris National Refuge, housed as many as 250 men.
Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge lies in the beautiful Souris River Valley of north-western North Dakota and extends for nearly 30 miles along the River. This 32,000-acre Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an important unit in a series of national wildlife refuges in the great waterfowl migration corridor know as the Central Flyway.
Managing for Wildlife
The purpose for establishing the Refuge in 1935 was "...as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.." The Refuge habitat is managed for diversity to provide the life requirements of all wildlife. Grasslands are periodically grazed, hayed, burned, and rested to provide good nesting and escape cover for wildlife and to rejuvenate the vegetation.
Lake Darling, a 10,000-acre lake named in honor of Ding Darling, is the largest of several water impoundments on the Refuge. Its primary purpose is to furnish a regulated supply of water to smaller marshes downstream and especially to the larger marshes on the J. Clark Salyer Refuge, 110 miles downstream. The lake is designed to hold a two-year supply of water to safeguard marshes downstream against the threat of drought. The dam also makes it possible to reduce the flooding and to regulate releases during periods of low flow. Both operations benefit people in the valley below the dam.
The proper management of water permits an active fisheries program on the Refuge. This is a cooperative effort between the Refuge and the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Management Assistance Office. Northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, and smallmouth bass may be caught in the lake and Souris River.
One successful Refuge management program has been the reestablishment of a resident Canada goose flock. These magnificent birds were once common, but they gradually disappeared with loss of habitat due to changes in land use. The first "honkers" were re-introduced in 1940 and the flock has grown to about 250 birds.
Wildlife and Waterfowl
Waterfowl numbering up to 350,000 can be seen during spring and fall migrations. Tundra swans along with pintails, canvasbacks, redheads, buffleheads, and other waterfowl either nest on the Refuge or use the Refuge during migration. Up to five species of grebes have been seen on the Refuge during the summer.
Several colonies of nesting cormorants and great blue herons use tree groves near the lake. While pelicans also use the Refuge as a loafing area but do not nest here.
Serious birders will also be able to find Baird's, LeConte's, and sharp-tailed sparrows, as well as Sprague's pipit.
White-tailed deer are common on the Refuge and an occasional antelope can be seen on the hills above the valley. Rare sightings of elk and moose have also been made. Muskrats are common and careful observation will reveal the tracks of raccoons and mink.
The Refuge offers a wide range of activities by which visitors can become better acquainted with wildlife. Opportunities for viewing and studying wildlife and plants, walking, photography, berry picking, and cross-country skiing are available along the 3.5 mile Prairie-Marsh Scenic Drive, hiking trails, and other open public use areas. However, for your safety these activities are not permitted during the Refuge rifle deer season. Canoeing can be enjoyed on several designated canoe routes. In the spring, photo blinds provide an opportunity for close-up viewing and photographing the extraordinary dance of sharp-tailed grouse. Picnic tables and grills are also provided at several locations for your use.
Visiting the Refuge
Upper Souris is a special place for wildlife and people. Yet, as a Wildlife Refuge, it is a place where the needs of wildlife come first. To ensure that this happens, regulations have been established to provide wildlife and their habitats with adequate protection from visitors. Although these regulations may be inconvenient to some or seem overly restrictive, they are necessary to protect wildlife populations and habitat and, in some instances, to safeguard visitors.
Visitors are responsible for knowing the Refuge regulations listed in our brochures and on our signs. By observing these rules, visitors will make the Refuge a better place for themselves and the wildlife they come to enjoy. The Refuge is open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. for your use.
- Pets - Use of horses is permitted with permission of the Refuge Manager. Dogs may be walked if they are on a leash.
- Hunting and Fishing - Hunting and fishing are permitted in certain areas under special Federal and State regulations.
- Prohibited Activities - The following activities are not permitted because they
are either unsafe, are not consistent with Refuge goals, or are unlawful:
- sailing, water skiing, and swimming
- use of all-terrain vehicles, jet skis, snowmobiles and related vehicles
- off-road vehicle travel
- trespassing in closed areas
- unleashed pets
- open fires
- unauthorized collection of animals and vegetation
- possession of fireworks and firearms (except during Refuge hunts)
- searching for or removing historic or prehistoric artifacts
- remaining on the refuge between 10 pm and 5 am
- Use or possession of bait fish other than fathead minnows or sticklebacks
- littering. Please pack your trash home
- pleasure boating on Lake Darling
- Use of boats, canoes, etc on the refuge between Oct 1 and April 30
See specific refuge brochures for additional visitor activities and regulations. Contact the Refuge Manager for all updated activities and regulations.
Interpretive exhibits and a book sales outlet at the Office/Visitor Center allow visitors to learn more about the Refuge and its management. Refuge brochures covering fishing, hunting, canoe trails, the scenic drive, mammals, birds, and native grasses are available at the Office/Visitor Center, as well as the information site southwest of the dam.
The Office/Visitor Center and the rest rooms at Landing 3 are wheelchair accessible. The Outlet Fishing Area has wheelchair accessible tables, grills, and a fishing pier, as well as rest rooms, sidewalks, and parking. The Prairie-Marsh Scenic Drive has a wheelchair accessible overlook of the beautiful Souris River Valley. The bridge and part of the shoreline at the Grano Crossing is wheelchair-accessible.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to afford persons with disabilities full accessibility or reasonable accommodation. Contact the Office/Visitor Center for information or to address accessibility problems. For the hearing impaired, use your State Relay System for the Deaf.