U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Division of Refuge Planning
Mountain-Prairie Region

Completed Plan Contacts

The Service completed this plan
in 2005.



Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge
39650 Sand Lake Drive
Columbia, South Dakota 57433


605 / 885 6320



Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge

South Dakota


The comprehensive conservation plan sets the management and use of Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge for 15 years. The refuge was named one of the top 15 birding sites in North America (WildBird magazine), is a Globally Important Bird Area (National Audubon Society), and is a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands).

The purposes for the refuge follow:

  • To serve "as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife" (Executive Order 7169).
  • "For use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds" (Migratory Bird Conservation Act).
  • "For the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources" (Fish and Wildlife Act).
  • For the "conservation, management, and … restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats … for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans" (National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act).
  • "For (1) incidental fish and wildlife-oriented recreational development, (2) the protection of natural resources, (3) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species" (Refuge Recreation Act).

Located in the James River basin of northeastern South Dakota, Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge plays a major role for migratory birds in the northern Great Plains.

  • Established in 1935.
  • Comprises 21,498 acres.
  • Located 27 miles northeast of Aberdeen in Brown County.

The refuge was formed primarily from farms and homesteads that failed during the drought of the 1930s. The marshes and open water impoundments of the refuge are surrounded by prairie grasslands, cultivated fields, and scattered woodlands along the James River. The wetlands, marshes, open lakes, and grasslands of the refuge are home to more than 266 bird species, 40 mammal species, and a variety of fishes, reptiles, and amphibians.

Image of the plan cover showing two western grebes splashing through water in a courtship display.

Plan cover showing western grebes in a courtship display. Photo copyright John Jave.

During spring and fall migration, millions of migratory birds rest and feed at the refuge. In addition, more than 123 different bird species nest and raise their young on the refuge. Each year more than 75,000 visitors come to the refuge to appreciate its wildlife and reconnect with nature.

Major actions in the comprehensive conservation plan follow:

  • Optimize the biological potential for migratory birds and find a balance with reducing cropland, while minimizing depredation.
  • Remove some shelterbelts and do reseeding to enhance the vegetative diversity of grasslands.
  • Manage five subimpoundments as shallow-water wetlands for waterfowl breeding pairs and broods, nesting black terns and pied-billed grebes, and foraging waterbirds.
  • Effect a long-term reduction of sediment entering the James River and the refuge through partnerships for watershed-level conservation.
  • Enhance recreational opportunities.


Comprehensive conservation plan (CCP)
CCP 2005 (5 MB PDF)

By section, for faster download:
Approval, contents, summary (PDF)
Chapter 1, purpose and need (1 MB PDF) Chapter 2, planning process (PDF)
Chapter 3, refuge resources and description (2 MB PDF)
Chapter 4, management direction (1 MB PDF)
Appendixes (1 MB PDF)

Draft CCP and environmental assessment (EA)
Draft CCP and EA 2005 (7 MB PDF)

By section, for faster download:
Contents, summary (PDF)
Chapter 1, purpose and need (1 MB PDF)
Chapter 2, planning process (PDF)
Chapter 3, affected environment (2 MB PDF)
Chapter 4, alternatives (3 MB PDF)
Chapter 5, environmental consequences (1 MB PDF)