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Refuge throws a party for its 75th

The Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge turned 75 years old in 2010, and refuge personnel celebrated the anniversary with the public on December 14th.

12/22/10 (Wed)

 

The Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge turned 75 years old in 2010, and refuge personnel celebrated the anniversary with the public on December 14th.

 

The headquarters office was outfitted with new visitor displays, a variety of historical and contemporary photos of refuge activities, and bright banners with slogans such as “Give Wing to Your Wild Side” in honor of the occasion, with about three dozen people attending the event.

 

“Thank you for sharing this special day with us as a refuge family,” refuge manager Dave Bolin told the audience as he welcomed them for a historical slide presentation. “You’ll see that people come and go, but the refuge remains, and we wish the refuge the best for the next 75 years!”

 

Andy Jewett, biological science technician, started the slide show with references to the executive order signed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 22, 1935, that specifically established the Des Lacs NWR:

 

By virtue of and pursuant to the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and in order to further the purposes of Migratory Bird Conservation Act, it is ordered that the following-described lands, acquired or to be acquired by the United States, in Burke and Ward Counties, North Dakota, consisting of 24,100 acres, more or less, be, and they are hereby, reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture, subject to valid existing rights, as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife:

 

Provided, that any private lands within the areas described shall become a part of the refuge hereby established upon the acquisition of title or lease thereto by the United States: (legal description of land)...This refuge shall be known as the Des Lacs Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.

 

Jewett reminded the refuge guests of the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

 

He also noted the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

 

“That’s the main reason I’m here, as I look at the future generations,” Jewett said of his employment with the USFWS. “And now that I have a little son, that hits home with me.”

 

Jewett showed photographs of the Des Lacs Lake area outside Kenmare prior to its use as a refuge, with barge, brickmaking and coal mining activities prevalent in the early 1900s. Once the executive order was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 19,544 of those acres became the refuge. The Upper Souris NWR was established a few days later, on August 27, 1935, while the Lower Souris, now J. Clark Salyer, refuge was created on September 4, 1935.

 

The Sam G. Anderson Company 797 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was opened in Kenmare on July 15th, 1935, and Jewett featured the work of the men stationed there as they developed the Des Lacs and neighboring Lostwood refuges until the camp closed in 1942.

 

Within five years, the CCC workers made a significant impact on the two refuges and Mouse River Park. They tore down some 70 buildings and constructed 10 structures for the refuges, including garages, cabins, granaries, one 24-stall garage, one rubble masonry shelter and two latrines, 35 picnic tables, 25 fireplaces, a warehouse, two fire lookout towers and a duck hospital.

 

They placed 140 miles of boundary fence, five miles of interior fencing, 18 miles of telephone lines and 40 carved wood signs, and built and gravelled 90 miles of truck trail, along with eight miles of gravelled highway at Mouse River Park. Two earth storage dams and spillways were built, as well as a concrete water control structure, while eight more concrete water control structures were repaired. Tens of thousands of cubic yards of channel were excavated and cleared, and some 55,000 square yards of rock riprap were placed on the dams.

 

The CCC workers also assisted in some of the early refuge management work. They planted 56,000 trees by 1940 and plowed 130 miles of fire break. They excavated 670 feet of diversion channel, collected 105,000 pounds of tree and plant seed, seeded 1100 acres in grain and corn, and spent 3900 man-days for bird banding, feeding, trapping and counting activities.

 

Jewett highlighted several of the CCC projects on the Des Lacs refuges with historical photos of fencing, road and culvert work, plumbing, building construction and use of the piled rock loading ramps. “They were for getting tractors around the refuge,” he said, “and there are still quite a few around the refuge today.”

 

He mentioned that some of those original trails and fencing exist on the refuge 75 years later. “A lot of the corner posts are still there,” he said. “The CCC did a lot of work.”

 

Several aspects of the refuge have changed with time, however, and Jewett spent a few minutes showing the transition of signs, buildings, vehicles and fire management. Improvements in controlling weeds, one of the major summer activities at the refuge, were noted by the audience as Jewett showed the progression from hand sprayers and helicopters to catching and releasing spurge beetles, to a current photograph of Duane “Doc” Dockter spraying weeds from one of the refuge’s ATVs.

 

The landscape of the refuge has also changed during the past 75 years, most noticeably at the Lakeshore Crossing on U.S. Highway 52 as a bridge spanning the width of the lake gave way to the roadway that now exists.

 

Jewett spoke briefly about control of the lake levels to create a spectrum of wetland habitats for use by migratory waterfowl species. He finished his presentation by talking about the present land management practices of the refuge, which were less well-known to guests. “We manage the landscape to look like pre-European settlement times,” he said, “and that means we want the natural native grasses that were here then.”

 

Refuge staff use the tools of grazing and fire to accomplish that purpose. “Seventy to ninety percent of the mixed grass prairie has been converted to agriculture,” said Jewett. “The quality of the prairie that is left is poor and there’s been a decline in grassland bird population.”

 

He listed five key bird species, familiar to several area residents, as indicators of the success of mixed grass prairie restoration, including the grasshopper sparrow, savannah sparrow, Baird’s sparrow, bobolink and chestnut-collared longspur. “These refuges are some of the last parts of the ecosystem left standing,” he said.

 

The audience shared cake and beverages with refuge staff while looking at even more historical photos, while a group of kids followed outreach and education coordinator Jennifer Jewett to a table where they created their own eagle or coyote animal masks to commemorate the event.

 

As coordinator for the 75th anniversary open house, Jennifer Jewett was pleased at the public response. “We had a good turnout of interested visitors,” she said, “and the kids were excited and enthusiastic about the activities we had for them. They had good interaction with the displays and exhibits, and that means they’re learning!”

 

Jewett sent press releases announcing the open house to local and regional media, and she specifically invited Kenmare’s elementary students by sending notes to the parents through the school. “We were targeting Kenmare because Kenmare is directly impacted by the refuge,” she said.

 

She was encouraged by the participation at the open house and hopes to hold more kids’ activities at the refuge headquarters during the winter. “This was a good start of good things to come!” she said.

 

Individuals or groups with an interest in the 75th anniversary of the Des Lacs NWR can contact Jennifer Jewett for more information by calling 701-385-4046, ext. 221, or Andy Jewett at the same phone number, ext. 223.