The Frederick L. Wicks Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary consists of 400 acres (most of Section 33, T156N, R89W) of hummocky virgin short-grass prairie – including over twenty wetland basins (glacial potholes, the largest covering 25 acres, another covering 3 acres) – on the Missouri Plateau (the high-plains end of the Great Plains), midway between the Missouri River (to the southwest) and the Souris River (to the northeast), the latter flowing north into Lake Winnipeg, part of the Hudson Bay watershed. The Sanctuary is on the edge of an area of intense oil exploration, underlain by the Bakken (geologic) Formation.
The property was donated to the National Audubon Society in 1992 as a memorial to Frederick L. Wicks (1885-1956) – longtime eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor in Valley City, North Dakota – who had purchased it in several parcels beginning in 1908. The property had been leased out for many years and was grazed moderately through 1996 (a transitional period was allowed so that the lessee could make alternative grazing arrangements). The land had (pre-)historically also been grazed by wandering herds of buffalo (bison). Periodic grazing – or burning – helps to rejuvenate the prairie.
The Sanctuary – which lies along the Mississippi flyway (bird migration route) about 45 miles west of Minot and 4 miles southwest of Blaisdell off of U.S. Highway 2 – is just 30 miles south of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge for migrating and breeding birds, and is adjacent to a 1000-acre U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Waterfowl Protection Area to the east. There is also a lot of nearby acreage in the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program (including the southwest quarter of Section 33), converted from cropland to tame or native grasses and other vegetative cover to, among other things, increase wildlife habitat. The remaining 80 acres of Section 33 (the eighth in the middle of the east side) is cropland.
The prairie surrounding the Sanctuary’s wetlands provides nesting cover for waterfowl, probably including pintail, teal, shoveler, widgeon, mallard, gadwall, etc. Hawks and sharp-tailed grouse have been observed in the Sanctuary, and it is probable habitat for the Baird sparrow and other endangered species, as well as for pheasants and deer. (We would welcome reports of species observed.)
In 1993, as part of its North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Lostwood Wetlands Management District installed three “predator-free” cement nesting structures for mallards and Canada geese in the two largest wetland basins. Already in 1992 the USFWS had put out bales of flax straw for protected nesting.
IN THE NEWS
What about wildlife? The Sanctuary is discussed in “Running with Oil,” an eight-day series (8/15-8/22/2010) of special reports on North Dakota’s booming oil industry that appears in the North Dakota newspapers of Forum Communications Co.
The Sanctuary is open to the public to explore (with great respect for the land and its flora and fauna). There are no facilities of any kind, other than a memorial plaque on a granite monument stone near the “entrance” on the west side. On a highpoint near the road, about a half-mile south of the entrance, is a rock cairn memorializing Alan E. Wicks – Frederick L. Wicks’ younger son – who was instrumental in initiating the donation of the property to Audubon before he died in 1991. The property was donated by his wife and children and by the wife and children of Alan’s older brother, Edwin O. Wicks.
Detailed directions to the Sanctuary (also see next paragraph): About 3 miles west of Blaisdell on U.S. Highway 2, about half a mile west of milepost 102 on the south side, turn south on a gravel road. The road starts out on the half-section line for ¾ of a mile, then bends east and again south onto the section line. Proceed on this road less than 3 miles in total (about 1 mile after again turning south), past a natural-gas pipeline marker (labeled 381) on the left. At the northwest corner of Section 33 there is a smaller road going west but not east. Just after that, on the left, is the “main entrance” to the Sanctuary, a “parking area” with an opening in the fence, and the dedicatory monument nearby.
Alternatively one can drive south from Blaisdell, 2 miles past U.S. Highway 2, then west for 2 miles to the northeast corner of the Sanctuary. From there one can drive 1 mile south (passing half a mile of cropland in the middle on the right) to the southeast corner of the Sanctuary at 60th Street NW. From there one can drive 1 mile west on 60th Street, then 1 mile north to the entrance.