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Two baby common terns on Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Two baby common terns on Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Smallest Refuge Sparks Large Efforts

Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge is the smallest refuge in the entire National Wildlife Refuge System. This .59 acre island habitat protruding out of Mille Lacs Lake is the home to the common tern, listed as threatened in Minnesota. Since 1993 the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Service have worked collaboratively to ensure Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge is a healthy habitat for common terns to nest on and rear their hatchlings, providing a spectacular example of unity and team work.

“We appreciate our seamless partnership and collaborative efforts with the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe. We would not be able to provide consistent support to the common tern without their help,” said Walt Ford, Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager. “The Mille Lacs Band has been unwavering in their support, offering both personnel and financial resources to ensure that the common tern know the island is a refuge and want to return every year.”

With each field season comes responsibilities to conserve and enhance Mille Lacs Refuge habitat. The Mille Lacs Band and Refuge staff alternate weekly visits from roughly June 1 through August to ensure that the common tern is protected. Data collection is critical for the continuing benefit of the species as they struggle for survival. The Refuge and the Mille Lacs Band utilizes the data to keep track of the population. Each common tern pair needs to raise 1.2 hatchlings per year to ensure a stable population; however, due to the small size of the island, ecological stressors such as erosion and large waves washing across the island from strong summer storms make survival by the young tern chicks difficult. To offset the natural erosion process and provide plenty of nesting opportunities, approximately once every five years, the Service will buy pea rock and the Mille Lacs Band will contract a gravel truck to drive over 3 feet of ice in mid-February to deliver the pea rock.

“That is how two agencies should function by working together for the common good of a species,” said Kelly Applegate, Mille Lacs Band Wildlife Biologist. “Working with the Service has showed that the Service listens, cares and wants to understand the cultural importance of the islands that are the refuge and will consider our traditional ecological knowledge to conserve the common tern.”

As the refuge celebrates its 100th birthday, we are honored to have such a strong working partnership with the Mille Lacs Band and greatly appreciate the contributions to conserving the refuge. We seek to continue working with tribes hand in hand to conserve, protect and enhance fish wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Learn more about common terns: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/es/soc/birds/cote-sa03.html

Learn more about what makes Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge a special place:
http://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/BdayMilleLacs.html

By Alejandro Morales
Regional Office – External Affairs

Two common terns sharing a fish. Photo courtesy of Rob Zweers/Creative Commons.

Two common terns sharing a fish. Photo courtesy of Rob Zweers/Creative Commons.

Truck driving over 3 feet of frozen ice to Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Truck driving over 3 feet of frozen ice to Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Pea rock being dumped on snow-covered Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Pea rock being dumped on snow-covered Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

 

Last updated: June 8, 2020