As autumn finishes washing over the country, our tour of the refuges brings us to Region 3 and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Situated 18 miles northeast of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, at an elevation of about 1,400 feet, the refuge comprises rolling forested hills interspersed with 28 lakes and numerous marshes, bogs, wooded potholes, and shrub swamps. Although spelled differently, its name recognizes our only deciduous cone-bearing tree, the Tamarack, or Larch (Larix laricina). stop on the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail, Tamarac is the nexus of one of the most diverse vegetative transition zones in North America, a convergence of northern hardwood forests, coniferous forests, and the tallgrass prairie.
All but 0.1% of Tamarac's 35,197 acres were purchased with MBCF funds, per FWS data tables. One of our early refuges, it was established in 1938.
Located close to Lake Itasca and the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Tamarac is in "near pristine" condition. Its three river systems provide significant wild rice production. Some water management is performed to maintain stands of this important source of food and cover for wildlife. Prescribed burns, plantings, and occasional timber harvests maintain a diverse and well-structured forest.
Tamarac's big success story in birdlife restoration is Trumpeter Swan, which was extirpated in Minnesota in the 1880s. Beginning with the introduction of several birds in Jim's Marsh in 1987, the swan's population has grown to 30 nesting pairs in the refuge and 5,500 birds statewide.
Efforts to conserve Golden-winged Warbler are more of a work in progress. Minnesota provides 42% of the breeding habitat for the global population of this songster, and Tamarac's habitat is ideal for this species. Unfortunately, populations are crashing throughout the warbler's range, and current numbers are one-fourth what they were 40 years ago. Researchers working at Tamarac are studying habitat preferences, nesting success, and other factors affecting this declining species.
The Friends of Tamarac is raising funds to build an educational Discovery Center for the refuge. You can virtually visit Tamarac via this brief video of a day on the property. Or experience it in person at next year's Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds.