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Refuge beat up by vandals

The Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge looks a little beat up right now.

1/16/13 (Wed)

Mis-interpretation . . . Interpretive signs on the Des Lacs
National Wildlife Refuge show evidence of recent vandalism. 
The two signs posted at the refuge overlook directly west of
Kenmare have been removed from the frames after vandals
coated both sign cases with red spray paint sometime
during the last two weeks of December.


By Caroline Downs

The Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge looks a little beat up right now.

Refuge manager Chad Zorn is asking for help in stopping the vandalism.

Specifically, the two interpretive signs posted at the scenic overlook immediately west of headquarters were covered with red paint sometime during the last two weeks of December.

About the same time, the first interpretive sign posted for northbound traffic on the Boat Dock Road, offering information about the species of grebes seen at the refuge during the spring and summer months, had three large holes broken out of its protective Plexiglass covering.

Zorn thinks the vandals may not understand the extent of their pranks. “That’s a lot of dollars of damage,” he said. “To replace those displays can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 apiece.”

In fact, in response to requests from local and out-of-town visitor requests, refuge personnel have been working to add new interpretive signs along the Boat Dock and South Lake roads on the refuge. The cost is prohibitive and refuge staff members have been seeking grants and other sources of funding to purchase new signs. Now, however, money that could be directed toward that project may have to be used to repair the damaged signs.

“Those are pretty serious items that are being vandalized,” said Zorn.

He noted other examples of abuse on the refuge lately, including tire tracks extending from Ward County Road 1A through the vegetation across refuge property for 70 to 75 yards before joining up with Ward County 1, rather than turning right onto Ward County 1 at the stop sign.

By the way, that stop sign was rammed to the ground on January 2nd, sometime between 12 noon and 1:30 pm.

Zorn appreciates visitors to the refuge and he realizes the area’s new residents may be coming out to use the overlook or drive on the refuge roads.

“I have seen an increase in the use of that overlook,” he said. “With that, though, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of garbage dumped there and things like beer cans, beer bottles and random trash.”

He asked for the public’s assistance in watching out for harmful activity at the refuge.

“Maybe businesses in the area are having some of the same issues,” he said. “If you have any information about these incidents, call me. This is a way for you to help put a stop to damage on this refuge.”

Snowmobiles prohibited
on Des Lacs refuge
With a good snow cover this year and fresh snow in the forecast, Zorn reminded local residents and out-of-town visitors that riding snowmobiles on the Des Lacs refuge is prohibited at all times.

He mentioned the tracks left on the surface of Unit 3, immediately west of Kenmare, where someone spun “cookies” with a snowmobile during the period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

He also received a report of snowmobile tracks on the Canada Goose Trail, which begins on the west edge of town and follows the east side of the refuge.

“Driving on the lake, the uplands or any of our roads or trails is prohibited,” Zorn said.

The snowmobile prohibition is similar to the ATV prohibition: even if the machine is licensed and insured for use on public roads, a driver cannot operate it on the Des Lacs refuge.

Zorn understands the appeal of the space and the trails on the refuge, but federal regulations forbid snowmobile use.

The only exception Zorn can make is for snowmobiles traveling in the ditches next to the county roads, with drivers on their way out of town to do their riding.

“If they’re riding along Ward County 1 or Ward County 2 to go past the refuge, I’m fine with that,” he said. “I understand they need to get out of town.”

According to Zorn, violators of the snowmobile prohibition will be issued citations and required to pay fines.

Refuge visitors are reminded that public use of the refuge, which is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, differs from lands managed by other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Services, National Park Service or BLM.

Further information about refuge use is available at the headquarters. The office and visitors center is open between 8 am and 4:30 pm Monday through Friday except for federal holidays.

Some refuge information and a restroom facility are available immediately inside the headquarters entrance anytime day or night.

Zorn is not interested in writing a stack of tickets for snowmobile violations, but he does want the practice to stop. Any details provided by members of the public can be helpful to him, including makes, models and license numbers of snowmobiles or other vehicles engaged in illegal activities on the refuge.

“Get the description as best you can of the vehicle and the driver,” he said. “Don’t approach them, and don’t get yourself into trouble, but sometimes a license number and a description is all it takes.”

Anyone with further questions about refuge use or regulations, or information about a particular violation, is welcome to contact Zorn at 701-385-4046 ext 225 during office hours or to leave a message.