Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The Tule Lake Tour Route
begins 4 miles south of the Refuge Visitor Center on Hill Road.
Follow the numbered posts
to learn more about the past, present, and future
of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge
||Before you begin:
- This auto tour route is 9.6 miles one way
- This auto tour route ends at the NE entrance of Lava Beds
National Monument, at which point you can travel west and return to Hill Road, or north to
- Your car is a great "blind". Staying in your car
will greatly increase your observation opportunities.
- Please pull over to the shoulder as much as possible when
- Binoculars and/or a spotting scope will greatly enhance your
- Be Alert! Watch for cars and farming equipment.
|BEGIN-at brochure station
Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is not entirely wetland.
Over 8,400 acres have always been high and dry! Behind you, on the west side of Hill Road
loom the rocky cliffs and uplands of Sheepy Ridge. During spring and summer many birds of
prey nest here. Take some time to scan the rocks and small caves for red-tailed hawks,
prairie falcons, and barn & great horned owls. During this time, large colonies of
cliff swallows use these cliffs to attach their mud nests. In winter, bald eagles may
perch here searching for waterfowl prey. Mule deer also frequent the upper slopes of the
|1. DRASTICALLY REDUCED
What you see
before you is only a very small portion of what used to make up Tule Lake. Ancient Tule
Lake was a massive water body with great seasonal and yearly fluctuations. In some wet
years, high runoff would fill this basin to 100,000 acres of open water and marsh...what
||Since the end of the last ice
age, Tule Lake and the rest of the Klamath Basin has been an oasis for wildlife,
particularly migratory birds. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Flyway,
the Basin and its 350,000 acres of wetlands provided a critical resting and feeding ground
for up to six million waterfowl. Periodic droughts followed by high water years resulted
in highly procuctive marshes. These marshes were also seen as an attractive opportunity to
the first settlers and their potential to grow crops was soon realized. If the water could
be drained or diverted away, rich lake bottom soils could be farmed. In 1902 Congress
passed the Reclamation Act, the land under Tule Lake was ceded by the state of California
to the federal government, and by 1905 the Klamath Reclamation Project had begun with the
ultimate goal of "reclaiming" the Basin's wetlands...including Tule Lake.
|The first major water
diversions started during 1907. By the 1960's, 75% of Klamath Basin wetlands had become
irrigated farmlands. Tule Lake had shrunk to the present 13% of its original size. The low
jagged mountain you may see in the background is the "peninsula". At one time it
was surrounded on three sides by Tule Lake. Today it is surrounded on all sides by
||Concern over the welfare of
Basin wildlife and migratory birds led to the 1928 establishment of Tule Lake
National Wildlife Refuge as a "refuge and breeding ground for birds".
Despite the refuge designation, reclamation remained a primary purpose of these lands, and
lake drainage and homesteading continued. In a situation unique to wildlife refuges, the US
Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of
Reclamation jointly manage the 39,000 acre refuge. Today refuge lands are
intensively managed to benefit both wildlife and people.
|2. "Sharecropping For
acres of the Tule Lake Refuge are managed as irrigated croplands. The majority-15,000
acres of these croplands are 5 year leases administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has final administrative control on these lands.
Although primarily planted in cereal grains or soil building crops such as alfalfa, up to
25% may be planted in row crops, usually potatoes, sugar beets, and onions. These row
crops may not be as readily utilized by wildlife. The Fish & Wildlife Service
administers approximately 2,000 acres for the direct benefit of wildlife.
|The fields you see along the
auto tour route are Fish & Wildlife Service "cooperative farming units". The
objectives of these units are to provide nesting cover and food for migratory birds. In
this program, farmers plant cereal grains such as barley, winter wheat, or oats. At
harvest time, one third of the grain is left behind as food for migratory waterfowl. Green
browse, such as winter wheat is planted here during the fall migration to provide
nutrient-rich food for the duck-sized cackling Canada geese...a species of
special concern. Any time of the year is a good time to scan these fields for coyotes.
|3. Tule Lake is
"In a mid-October day of almost any year when the southern
migration along the Pacific Flyway is in mid-flight, a visitor to Northern California's
Tule Lake may still see a sight as full of wonder as that of the buffalo and [passenger]
pigeons; the sight of 6 million ducks and geese gathered in a single rendezvous"
|This and other writings were published in the
news of the day in the 1960's and early 1970's. Tule Lake was considered one of the most
important waterfowl refuges in North America with peak waterfowl concentrations exceeding
2.5 million ducks and 1 million geese. At that time, the refuge consisted of productive
wetland habitats surrounded by productive agricultural fields. Refuge crops provided high
energy food for these birds and delayed their southern migration into important
agricultural areas of California's Central and Imperial Valleys. Conlonial nesting birds
such as egrets and herons were also abundant.
Unfortunately, reclamation was still recognized as the primary purpose of the
|In 1964, Congress moved to preserve the
successful mix of wetlands and croplands from further drainage and homesteading. The
Kuchel Act (pronounced keekle) dedicated the Refuge to wildlife conservation with the
primary purpose of waterfowl management . As far as the lands that had already been
drained... the Act allows for "optimal agricultural use that is consistent with
Heralded as the final success for Tule Lake Refuge, the
Kuchel Act legislation was passed during a time of limited knowledge in marsh ecology and
waterfowl management. The very ecological processes that resulted in the high productivity
of Tule Lake (the great fluctuations in size and depth) ended when the wetlands became
restricted to their current size by dikes such as the one you are now driving on.
the slow death of a marsh
Over the past 40 years, overall wetland
quality has declined through siltation and lack of habitat diversity. The result is that
Tule Lake has since suffered declines in waterfowl use, declines in waterfowl production,
and reduced numbers of waterbirds using the wetland.
|In contrast, the Lower Klamath National
Wildlife Refuge (on the other side of Sheepy Ridge) has experienced steady increases in
waterfowl use. Refuge employees intensively manage Lower Klamath habitats for wildlife by
flooding, dewatering, and rotating seasonal and permanent wetlands. The result is greater
diversity and numbers of wildlife.
See for yourself on the 10 mile Lower Klamath
auto tour loop.
|4. The "English
This relatively narrow channel is affectionately referred to as the
"English Channel". A connecting channel between the two large wetlands, this is
one of the deepest areas of Tule Lake, and home to an endangered species. The Lost River
Sucker feeds near the bottom on detritus, algae, and insect larvae. Sucker fish prefer
water depths of three feet or more. Unfortunately, due to siltation, water depths have
decreased in Tule Lake by approximately 14 inches since the Kuchel Act was passed. Less
than 10% of the existing lake meets the preferred depth requirement for the sucker fish.
In general, the deeper water here results in a great area to view Western and
Clarks grebes, canvasback and ruddy ducks, and loafing geese during spring and
summer. Be sure to check the perching poles for raptors. Bald eagles and rough-legged
hawks frequent this area in winter.
intersection ahead you will have two options.
Taking the right
turn will continue with the self guided tour and a journey along the south
shore of the southern sump and uplands. At the end of the tour route you will be at the NE
entrance of Lava Beds National Monument.
A left turn will take you along
the north shore of the southern sump to paved county road 111. This route may be rough and
slow speeds are recommended.
Point...Wetland/Cropland Rotation...Restoring the Balance
At the tour marker you may
drive 100 feet to the right and view a new seasonal marsh known as Hovey Point.
Concern over the continued decline in wetland productivity and waterfowl use in Tule Lake
has stimulated interest in reclaiming farmland back to marshes. The Fish & Wildlife
Service proposes rotating wetlands and croplands on the Tule Lake Refuge. Dividing the
refuge into 1,000 to 6,000 acre management units; refuge managers would rotate wetlands
and agriculture among these units over a several year period for the benefit of both.This
rotation of farm to wetland/and back mimics the creation and destruction of wetlands that used to occur
along the edges of a naturally fluctuating Tule Lake.
|Hovey Point is one of four study plots
totaling 640 acres throughout the refuge where farmland has been returned to marsh...a fluctuating
seasonal marsh! These are the first seasonal marshes seen on Tule Lake since it was
stabilized in the 1950s! Biologists are investigating the impacts of this plan on
water quality, wetland development, wildlife use, etc. If these small scale wetlands are
successful, the refuge hopes to introduce larger areas of seasonal and long term
Refuge staff and cooperators are extremely enthused about the
preliminary results with fantastic numbers of waterfowl using these new wetlands during
the spring and fall migrations. Could Tule Lake resume its place as one of the premier
waterfowl refuges in North America? We think so.
||6. Perching Trees &
Due to the scarcity of trees in this arid habitat, those few that grow along the
lake shore are highly prized as perching spots for birds of prey. Look closely and you may
spot one in the lone willow tree. There is even a photography blind at the base of this
tree, which is excellent for bald eagle photography during winter months. One mile ahead,
a boardwalk leads to a wheelchair accessible blind. The Fish & Wildlife Service
maintains 8 photoblinds on Lower Klamath & Tule Lake Refuges.
Information and reservations for
this popular activity are available at the refuge visitor center
or CLICK HERE.
|We hope that you have
enjoyed this tour through Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. As you can see the Klamath
Basin and Tule Lake have been through drastic changes in this last century, mostly due to
reclamation. We will do our best to balance the needs of wildlife, while allowing
You can be a
part of a healthy Refuge too by supporting your National Wildlife Refuge and educating
yourselves and others about the important role wetlands play in the lives of migratory
waterfowl and other wildlife.
Thanks for sharing our wetland!
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