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Des Lacs
National Wildlife Refuge

A panoramic view of Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge shows a vast expanse of grassland with a large wetland.  The wetland is thick with waterfowl floating on its surface.
1 Mile West of Kenmare, County Rd 1A
Kenmare, ND   58746
E-mail: deslacs@fws.gov
Phone Number: 701-385-4046
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
In the fall, snow goose concentrations can reach 500,000 birds on the Refuge.
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Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is found in a 28-mile long river valley with three natural lakes. The northern boundary of the Refuge is at the Canadian border. The Refuge was established during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. The original Refuge facilities were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to benefit waterfowl production and protection.

"Des lacs" is French for "of the lakes." Early trappers originally called this area "riviere des lacs," literally, "river of the lakes," which aptly describes its prominent features. Uplands include gently rolling Drift Plains as well as steep slopes that drop 50-125 feet to the river valley, with numerous wooded draws and coulees that drain the Drift Plain. The upland vegetation is characterized as mixed-grass prairie.

Des Lacs NWR is well known for spectacular snow goose populations of 200,000 to 300,000 geese in the fall. The local community of Kenmare hosts the annual "Goosefest" in October to celebrate the fall migration.

Getting There . . .
The Des Lacs NWR headquarters is located 1 mile west of Kenmare, North Dakota, off Ward County Road 1. A large entrance sign is situated at the junction of County Roads 1 and 1A. Kenmare is located 50 miles northwest of Minot on U.S. Highway 52.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Des Lacs NWR's 19,544 acres include 13,600 acres of upland grass and grass-shrub communities, 230 acres of wooded draws and coulees, 5,014 acres of open water, and 700 acres of marsh habitat.

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Historical records indicate that the last inhabitants of the Des Lacs River valley before Euro-American settlement were the southern Assiniboin tribes, who now reside in Canada.

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Management Activities
The primary habitat management program on the Refuge is for nesting birds in the upland grasslands. Grassland habitats are managed using grazing, prescribed burning, haying of tame grass, farming, and resting. Most of the grasslands have been invaded by exotic cool season sod-forming grasses, smooth bromegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass. Short-duration grazing rotated with rest periods mimics the historic patterns of large grazing herds and encourages the growth of native grasses and forbs. Prescribed burning is used to stop the spread of woody vegetation that increased during the years of fire suppression. The noxious weed, leafy spurge, is a difficult management problem on the Refuge. Current control techniques include flea beetles, boundary herbicide treatment, and mowing.

There are eight marsh units on the Refuge that total approximately 5,000 acres. Dikes and water control structures allow for some limited water manipulations, though the system is very flat and shallow. Sago pondweed is the primary submerged plant in the marshes. It grows in large, dense mats in the lower units and provides excellent nesting and brood-rearing habitat for waterfowl.

Nine islands have been constructed for waterfowl nesting in the lower marsh units. Ducks and geese have improved nesting success on the islands because predators cannot easily reach the islands.