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San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Tule elk at San Luis National Wildlife RefugeRefuge Overview: Located in central California’s San Joaquin Valley, the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex consists of three National Wildlife Refuges (San Luis NWR, Merced NWR, and San Joaquin River NWR) and a Grasslands Wildlife Management Area (GWMA). San Luis NWR encompasses 26,609 acres; in 1966, the refuge’s first 7,340 acres were purchased with Federal Duck Stamp dollars and additional acres have since been added through funding from Ducks Unlimited and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). Merced NWR, 8,234 acres, is the oldest refuge in the complex (established in 1951) and was also purchased, in part, with Federal Duck Stamp dollars. The 6,642 acre San Joaquin River NWR, is the complex’s newest refuge; it was established in 1987.
John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS photo


Wildlife and Habitat: San Luis NWR preserves acres of wetlands, tree-lined channels, oxbow lakes, alkali sinks, vernal pools, and native grasslands. The area is an important wintering ground for migratory waterfowl, protecting hundreds of thousands of mallard, pintail, green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, and wood ducks each year. It is also a productive area for herons and egrets, providing nesting areas in oaks and willows and abundant frogs and crayfish for food sources. A variety of threatened and endangered species call the refuge home, and one of only twenty-two remaining herds of Tule elk can be found on the refuge.

Merced NWR is also crucial for wintering migratory birds, with the largest flocks of lesser sandhill cranes (15,000) and Ross’ geese (100,000 including white-fronted and cackling Canada geese) in the Pacific Flyway utilizing the refuge. Formerly a working farm, the refuge’s wetlands are intensely managed to provide natural food sources, such as wild millet and swamp timothy, for migrating waterfowl.

San Joaquin River NWR played an important part in the recovery and de-listing of the Aleutian Canada Goose. A mix of oak-cottonwood-willow riparian forest, pasture land, agricultural fields, and wetlands, the refuge provides roost ponds and foraging habitat for Aleutian Canada Geese, supporting 98 percent of the wintering population in the Valley. The refuge is also an important wintering ground for sandhill cranes, cackling Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and neotropical migratory land birds. There is also a large heron/egret rookery in the refuge’s forested area.


Recreation Opportunities: San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Refuges are both open for public hunting, bird watching, hiking, and a number of other wildlife-centered recreation opportunities. The San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge has more limited public use opportunities right now, but future changes to the refuge will increase recreation opportunities.

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