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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Natural Areas of North Dakota

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge

GIF--Location of Natural Area


William Berg

Directions: 2 miles north of Upham on Highway 14.

J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge lies astride the lower reaches of the Souris River in McHenry and Bottineau counties. The refuge was established in 1935 for the preservation and propagation of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.

JPG--Snow Geese

It is the largest refuge in North Dakota and consists of nearly 59,000 acres of marshland, meadows, riverbottom hardwoods, sandhills, and associated uplands. The marshes were originally drained in the early 1900s and then restored and expanded in the '30s by constructing low earthen dikes across the valley floor. Five low-head dikes with water control structures create pools along the 75 miles of river included within the refuge. The 20,000 acres of shallow marshes represent some of the largest freshwater wetlands in the United States.

The varied refuge habitat provides ideal conditions for countless species of birds. Over the years 250 species have been documented using the refuge and 125 species have been found nesting. The large marshes are especially attractive to migratory waterfowl. Peak numbers of 150,000 birds have been noted during spring and fall migration. During the summer, breeding waterfowl are joined by thousands of molting adult ducks from smaller water areas as far away as 100 miles. The expansive marshes offer protection during their three to four week flightless period. Although waterfowl concentrations are spectacular, bird enthusiasts are also attracted to other bird life. Such birds as the Le Conte's, Baird's or sharp-tailed sparrows are sought out by avid birdwatchers who come from throughout the country. Sharp-tailed grouse, white pelicans, eared grebes and black-crowned night herons are also common.

In addition to bird life the refuge abounds with most species of mammals common to the prairies. White-tailed deer, mink, muskrat, red fox and coyote are often seen from one of the many roads that traverse the refuge.

Facilities: A visitor's station, observation tower and birdwatching platforms are located near headquarters. The station is open weekdays during summer. The refuge has designated public use areas for fishing and hunting. A 22-mile auto tour route threads its way through the lower one-third of the refuge. Picnic areas are along the route. The auto tour is open throughout the year. There is also a five-mile long grassland trail just east of the town of Newburg. Both trails are passable only during dry weather. The grassland trail is open early spring until the end of September. The refuge also has a 13-mile stretch of the Souris River open to canoeing which has been designated a unit of the National Trails System. The slow winding river offers excellent scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. During the spring a sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground blind is provided to the public.

Background Information: The following are available by writing the headquarters office or picking up copies at the self-service visitor contact station: general refuge brochure, map, bird checklist, auto tour guide pointing out management features and historical sites along the tour route, and a canoe trail guide.

Administration and Contact: J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Use of the refuge is permitted between the hours of 5 a.m.-10 p.m. For further information, contact: Refuge Manager, J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, Upham, ND 58789.

WILLIAM BERG is assistant refuge manager at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in Upham, N.D.

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