August 28, 2019 — Theodore Roosevelt established the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge on this date in 1908. The refuge encompasses 4,385 acres northwest of Medina and is one of state’s largest surviving blocks of native prairie. As a wilderness area, no motor vehicles and no roads are allowed, leaving the area almost identical to pre-settlement days. The refuge is home to at least 230 bird species (some of them rare), 35 species of butterflies and untold numbers of wildflowers.
Chase Lake has also been home to the largest nesting colony of American white pelicans on the continent – approximately half the North American population. This June, however, scientists were baffled when approximately 29,000 pelicans disappeared from the refuge in a matter of days. Experts have no concrete reason for why the birds suddenly abandoned their eggs and hatchlings… no indication of disease or undue disturbances of nesting habitat.
Some theorize the cold, wet spring altered the pelicans’ food supply, and others believe this may be a “natural population correction.” They are optimistic that the birds will return next spring.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.