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Newly reorganized refuge complex includes Lostwood, Medicine Lake, Des Lacs at Kenmare

As of October 1st, the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge started shifting its focus west when it was officially reorganized as part of the Lostwood Wetland Management District Complex.

10/10/12 (Wed)

One giant complex on the prairie . . . Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge
manager Chad Zorn, Lostwood National Wildlife manager Kory Richardson,
and Lostwood Wetland Management District Complex project leader
Dave Gillund discuss the change that links the Des Lacs refuge to the
Lostwood and Medicine Lake, MT, refuges for management purposes.


By Caroline Downs

As of October 1st, the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge started shifting its focus west when it was officially reorganized as part of the Lostwood Wetland Management District Complex.

The new complex, established through action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region office in Denver, CO, will include the Des Lacs and Lostwood refuges of North Dakota, the Medicine Lake NWR of eastern Montana, the Crosby and Lostwood WMDs and the Northeast Montana WMD. Management decisions and activities will span all of northwestern North Dakota and a portion of eastern Montana.

“It just fits,” said Chad Zorn, manager of the Des Lacs NWR. “The Des Lacs refuge is surrounded by the Lostwood and Crosby wetland management districts.”

The Des Lacs NWR was formerly connected to the Lostwood NWR and WMD as the Des Lacs Complex, under now-retired project leader Fred Giese who was based in Kenmare. The Des Lacs Complex was reorganized in 2005, when the Des Lacs NWR joined with the Upper Souris and J. Clark Salyer NWRs as the Souris River Basin Complex.

Zorn, who previously worked for the Des Lacs NWR Complex, was pleased to see the refuge reconnected with the Lostwood refuge and wetland management district. “I get a lot of phone calls here now (from the public) for the Lostwood Refuge,” he said. “When there’s an issue for them in the Gooseneck area, we can respond quicker than the Lostwood staff can.”

The shift for the Des Lacs refuge back to the Lostwood Complex is part of a regional effort by the USFWS to improve efficiency and use staff and resources more strategically with little impact to the budget. Dave Gillund, who was serving as the Lostwood Complex project leader, will continue in that role for the expanded complex.

From Gillund’s perspective, the new complex makes good sense. “Although the Medicine Lake refuge has been part of the Mountain Zone in our region, we have very similar habitats and we share common interests,” he said, naming the piping plover recovery program and concerns about oil and gas development in the Bakken oil formation as two of those interests. “So we made the decision to bring the Medicine Lake refuge into the Dakotas Zone.”

The Des Lacs refuge does not monitor a piping plover population or deal directly with major energy development projects at this time, but the refuge does share prairie habitat management interests with the other refuges in the new complex. Gillund also noted the short distance between the Des Lacs and Lostwood offices west of Kenmare.

“This allows us to share staff, infrastructure and resources,” he said. “We have some of the same partnerships and potential cooperators (for wetland and grassland easements, grazing agreements, etc.) in the areas where we’re working.”

According to Gillund and Zorn, the public will not see major changes in the daily operations of the refuges. The Des Lacs and Lostwood NWRs will retain their identities, with Zorn continuing as the Des Lacs refuge manager and Kory Richardson serving as the Lostwood NWR manager as well as the deputy project leader for the Lostwood Complex.

Gillund noted his office will remain in Crosby. “That puts me geographically in the center of the complex,” he said, “and allows me to spend equal time at all these stations.”

Des Lacs refuge
offices will get used
Visitors to the Des Lacs refuge may catch Gillund there on occasion, but other new staff members will likely be working at refuge headquarters west of Kenmare. The office building, completed in 2003, has space available to accommodate the needs of the new complex.

“It may be more efficient for some positions to operate out of the Des Lacs refuge instead of the Lostwood office,” said Gillund as he described the already crowded conditions at the Lostwood headquarters building. As an example, he said the retirement announced by the current manager for the Lostwood WMD, Greg Harper, could mean the position would be moved to the Des Lacs office.

“I know the community would like to see this facility used,” Zorn said. “More staff is welcome. We’ve got the room.”

Even better news for the Des Lacs refuge is the emphasis on filling local positions. Zorn explained the refuge would retain funding for the position left open when longtime maintenance engineer Duane Dockter retired last spring. “But that position may come back here as an assistant manager for the Des Lacs refuge and the Lostwood Wetland Management District,” Zorn said.

Zorn noted vacancies resulting later this week from the departure of biological technician Andy Jewett and travel specialist Jennifer Jewett, who also served as the outreach and education coordinator for the Des Lacs refuge, will be filled. “And our plan is to fill them as quickly as possible,” Zorn said. “Our goal is to continue to keep the programs going that the Jewetts were successful in starting. We’re not going to let those programs drop.”

Gillund, Zorn and Richardson agreed the workload for the expanded complex would remain busy for the 30 permanent staff members, with priorities on providing quality migratory bird habitat and maintaining the piping plover recovery program in the face of new challenges from the oil and gas industry. “We’re all in the business for wildlife,” Gillund said, “and I’ve never seen this landscape with this much threat.”

“We also need to keep up with the onrush of infrastructure development for Bakken oil,” Richardson said, adding that complex staff would continue communicating with utilities, pipeline, drilling and oil companies in these efforts. “We’ll be working on protecting and /or decreasing the impacts of that to the easements we have in the region.”

Zorn said news about the recomplexing decision was welcomed by the Des Lacs personnel. “Most of the staff here was part of the old complex [with Lostwood],” he said, “so we’re going back to what they already knew. The fit is just that much better, and when I heard we had the chance [to do this], I was 100 percent onboard.”

Richardson said the Lostwood staff had a similar response. “Overall, we have a lot of cautious optimism about how things are going to come together,” he said. “Ultimately, our focus is on the future. We’re working as a team, and everybody is an important part of that team.”

Gillund described the first full staff meeting, held in mid-September, as a source of creative energy for the new complex. “We have the opportunity to share our experiences and look at what each of us does differently,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of potential now.”

Persons with questions about the expanded Lostwood Complex that now includes the Des Lacs NWR are welcome to contact Zorn at 701-385-4046, ext. 225, during regular refuge hours.