City of Waubay
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Waubay National Wildlife

Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeastern South Dakota, was established in 1935 and is administered by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is located in the prairie pothole region, the largest duck production area in the continental United States. The refuge includes 4650 acres of lakes, marshlands, grasslands, and woodlands which support diverse and abundant wildlife. Both eastern and western bird species of the United States can be found here.

Water levels in prairie lakes, like Waubay Lake, are subject to extreme fluctuations. In the 1930's, Waubay Lake was dry. Heavy precipitation between 1993 and 1997 caused the lake level to rise 15 feet, flooding 100 year old trees. When water levels change, wildlife using the refuge changes. Low water periods draw thousands of diving ducks attracted to sago pondweed beds. On the other hand, flooded timber makes ideal habitat for nesting wood ducks. More than 100 species of birds nest on the refuge; their relative abundance adjusting with changes in habitat.

A nesting place for birds" is the literal translation of the Sioux word "Waubay". There couldn't be a better name for this National Wildlife Refuge, home to 245 species of birds. Artist George Catlin described this area a "blue and boundless ocean of prairie."

Wetland Management Districts (WMDs) are little-known, but very important, components of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Within the WMDs, small parcels of land (Waterfowl Production Areas) are purchased and managed by the Service to provide nesting habitat for waterfowl. These areas are concentrated where the ducks are, in the Prairie Pothole Region.

Waubay WMD includes Day, Clark, Codington, Grant, Roberts, and Marshall counties in South Dakota. Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) in this District total more than 40,000 acres. In fact, the very first WPA was established in 1959 in Waubay WMD. These lands, purchased from the sale of Duck Stamps, are open to the public for hunting as well as other outdoor activities. Service staff also work with private landowners to protect habitat. More than 100,000 acres of wetlands and 150,000 of grasslands in the WMD are protected through agreements between the Service and private landowners. 

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