Cairn Rescue at DU's First United States Project

Facilities Manager Chuck Darling (left) and Professional Surveyor Tom Eckroth stand with relocated cairn.

Facilities Manager Chuck Darling (left) and Professional Surveyor Tom Eckroth stand with relocated cairn.

In 1984, Ducks Unlimited chose Arena Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for its first cooperative waterfowl habitat enhancement project in the United States. A cairn with a memorial plaque was placed on the site on October 3, 1985. The structure stood until 2014 when time, waves and high water eroded the ground beneath it and the concrete structure fell into the lake. To honor the history of DU's first efforts in the U.S., on March 21 a three-person team from the engineering department at the Great Plains Office traveled to the site, west of Wing, North Dakota, to reclaim the cairn and place it in a safer spot.

Erected almost 33 years ago and in danger of being lost at the bottom of Lake Arena the team extracted the monument from beneath several feet of snow. The salty waters of Lake Arena hadn't caused much corrosion or deterioration to the plaque or concrete cairn. The marker is now located in a nearby North Dakota Game and Fish parking area for the WMA.

The 800-acre WMA is owned by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in the heart of the Missouri Couteau, part of the Prairie Pothole Region. Groundbreaking for the nesting island project took place on September 26, 1984. The impetus for the project in was to create a secure nesting area for waterfowl because the current nesting research showed poor nest success due to depleted nesting habitat and susceptibility to predators. Crews dug a channel across the base of a peninsula in Lake Arena, cutting it off from the mainland and creating the island.

"Ducks Unlimited's habitat program started here [in North Dakota] because they [the DU board at the time] knew from past research that the five states [North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Iowa] were the primary waterfowl production states in the U.S.," said Bob Meeks, first and former director of operations at DU's Great Plains Office. "The research being conducted at the time knew that nest success was terrible and that duck populations weren't achieving replacement numbers."

In 1988, the nesting island on Lake Arena was touted by then DU Executive Vice President Matthew Connolly Jr. as "superb nesting cover for puddle ducks in the midst of this year's drought."

At the time, the Arena Lake nesting island project served a purpose. However, this localized nesting project shows how far DU has come with its conservation practice focus. Now instead of building small localized projects, DU is more diversified and focuses on larger landscape scope methods of conservation. These methods include working on private and public lands, using working land concepts, incorporating Farm Bill programs into conservation evaluations, working on public policies that promote conservation and incorporating soil health and production agriculture into its efforts.

See more photos of the adventure.