The coordinates being used as a placeholder is for the intersection of 46th St NE and 113thd Ave NE, which is about half way between McHugh Slough and Lake Laretta as shown on many maps. However, both of these body of waters have greatly expanded during the wet cycle that started in 1993, flooding many ag fields and roads.
Access to the area has been hampered in recent years by flooding of section-line roads, but much can be observed by taking the county road north from Mapes, ND (CR 22), until it intersects with Nelson County Road 1, and then traveling east-west along Nelson CR 1.
Lake Laretta had a small nesting island in the 1980s that included a few American White Pelican nests, along with nesting Ring-billed and California Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants. This island was soon submerged when the wet period began in 1993. However much of the area between McHugh Slough and Lake Laretta has since flooded, creating habit for nesting grebes, egrets and herons, bitterns, Forster's and Black Terns, and white-faced ibis. There are at least two colonies of nesting Franklin's Gull (as of 2014) and both Ring-billed, and California Gulls likely nest. Mark Fisher photographed from the air an apparent large nesting colony of Am White Pelicans numbering at least 1600. Fisher speculates that the inundation of nesting areas in Lake Alice NWR has resulted in displacement o a number of nesters to the McHugh/Lake Laretta site.

Ornithological Summary

The importance of this area is attested to by the 19 species of state conservation concern that are listed. It has perhaps the most diverse assemblage of waders and colonial nesters to be found in the eastern third of North Dakota. It may be that many of these species have moved to the Lake Laretta/Hugh McHugh Slough area because they were displaced by the rising waters in the Devils Lake Basin.

Conservation Issues

McHugh Slough and Lake Laretta are permanent bodies of water that will still be present during periods of prolonged drought. However much of the area between is flooded farmland that has come about during the wet period that started in 1993 and has sustained through 2014. It is this flooding that has greatly increased habitat for nesting waterfowl, grebes, gulls and terns, and waders. Although this has been a boon for wildlife, it has been to the detriment of landowners who earned their livelihood from the land. This leads to pressures to restore farmland through drainage and diversion. Even without such intervention, the state may return to a drier time that will strongly impact species associated with wetlands.

As is true of wetlands in general, the McHugh Slough/Lake Laretta area is subject to impact by increased use of fertilizers and pesticides in surrounding farmland.

Presently the American White Pelican nesting colony likely exists because of the flooding of surrounding farmland, thus creating an island.


Perhaps over 95% of the area is privately owned. There are a few Waterfowl Production Areas administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The prolonged wet period that began in 1993 has flooded low-lying farmland, creating a variety of wetlands ranging from extensive cattail stands to areas of open water with emergent vegetation. Lake Laretta is now a rather deep lake.

Land Use

Lake Laretta, especially, has long been used for recreational fishing. Drainage of the flooded farmland between Lake Laretta and McHugh Slough would allow former farm uses to return.

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