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Refuge System - Planning
Mountain-Prairie Region
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Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Des Lacs, J. Clark Salyer, and Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuges—North Dakota

Refuge descriptions | The plan | Documents | Open / close all

Image of the plan cover showing wetland and upland landscapes at the three refuges.

Plan cover with landscapes of the three refuges.

The comprehensive conservation plan sets the management and use of Des Lacs, J. Clark Salyer, and Upper Souris national wildlife refuges for 15 years. The Souris River basin in northern North Dakota is home to these three national wildlife refuges, known as the Souris River basin refuges. The Souris River basin extends from North Dakota into the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Souris River is the main watercourse and the Des Lacs River is its primary tributary. Until widespread cultivation of prairie soils beginning nearly a century ago, the major ecological community in the basin was northern mixed-grass prairie.

The Souris River basin refuges are in a critical area of the Central Flyway, providing resting and breeding habitat for migrating and nesting waterfowl. The National Audubon Society recognizes all three refuges as Globally Important Bird Areas.

The three refuges were established in 1935 for the same purpose—to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Completed Plan Contacts

The Service completed this plan in 2007.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge
42000 520th Street Northwest
Kenmare, North Dakota 58746
Walden, Colorado 80480
Des Lacs NWR

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge
681 Salyer Road
Kenmare, North Dakota 58746
Upham, North Dakota 58789
701 / 768 2548
J. Clark Salyer NWR

Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge
17705 212th Avenue Northwest
Berthhold, North Dakota 58718
701 / 468 5467
Upper Souris Salyer NWR

Refuge descriptions »

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Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge

  • Comprises 19,500 acres.
  • Located 1 mile west of Kenmare, North Dakota, in Burke and Ward counties.
  • Extends south from the Canada border along 28 miles of the Des Lacs River.

The refuge consists of 13,600 acres of upland grass and grass-shrub communities, 200 acres of wooded draws and coulees, 5,000 acres of open water including three natural lakes, and 700 acres of marsh habitat.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge is well known for spectacular snow goose populations of 200,000–300,000 geese in the fall. The wooded coulees provide white-tailed deer with secluded fawning areas and protection from winter winds. In addition, warblers and other songbirds nest within or beneath the tree canopy. Conspicuous animals of the open prairie include the northern harrier, sharp-tailed grouse, and song sparrow.

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge

  • Comprises 58,700 acres
  • Located 2 miles north of Upham, North Dakota, in Bottineau and McHenry counties.
  • Extends southeast from the Canadian border along 75 miles of the east arm of the Souris River.

The 36,000 acres of upland habitat include native and introduced grasses, thick woodlands, shrub thickets, and some cropland. The southern portion of the refuge contains about 16,000 acres of native prairie interspersed with aspen and brush-covered sandhills and 4,200 acres of wooded river bottom. Because it is in a transitional zone, the area supports an exceptional diversity of prairie habitats.

Wetland habitats include deep and shallow marshes within the Souris River floodplain. Five dikes with water control structures have restored 23,000 acres of open water, marsh, and wet meadow habitat for migratory bird breeding and migration. Six impoundments within the main marshes provide additional management capability.

More than 250 bird species have been recorded including sharp-tailed grouse, Swainson's hawk, and relatively rare birds such as Baird's sparrow. Twenty-seven waterfowl species use the refuge, and 18 species have been recorded nesting on the refuge. The refuge is a regional site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge

  • Comprises 32,092 acres including the 9,600-acre Lake Darling.
  • Located 30 miles northwest of Minot, North Dakota, in Renville and Ward counties.
  • Extends south-southwest along 35 miles of the west arm of the Souris River.

Refuge habitats include native mixed-grass prairie; planted grasses and legumes; steep, shrub-covered coulees; bottomland woodlands; pothole wetlands; and a lake. These habitats host hundreds of thousands of waterfowl during spring and fall migration. Northern pintails, tundra swans, and other waterfowl nest or forage on the refuge. American white pelicans and black terns use refuge habitats during the summer.

The sora rail, sedge wren, and numerous species of shorebirds find habitat in refuge marshes and wet meadows. Lake Darling is designated critical habitat for the piping plover, a federally threatened shorebird.

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The plan »

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Major actions in the comprehensive conservation plan follow:

  • Restore and maintain extensive examples of plant communities that are characteristic of the mid-1800s drift prairie, prairie parkland, sandhills, and seasonally flooded meadows.
  • Restore representative examples of prairie slopes to preserve pristine plant communities in the Souris River basin and promote appreciation and stewardship of the prairie.
  • Establish native vegetative cover on high-priority areas of old cropland to improve habitat for grassland-dependent, breeding bird species.
  • Restore the ecological processes that sustain the long-term productivity of wetlands.
  • Provide wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities when the administration of these programs does not adversely affect management of wildlife and habitat.

The Souris River basin refuges provide a wide variety of wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities and facilities for visitors including the following: (1) hunting of deer and upland birds; (2) wildlife observation and photography—auto tour routes, hiking trails, observation and photography blinds; and (3) interpretive information—kiosks, panels, and exhibits.

Documents »

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: November 14, 2019
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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