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Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery

P.O. Box 530 | Riverdale, ND 58565
Hours: (Memorial Day through Labor Day), 8:00 a.m - 3:30 p.m. | Phone: (701) 654-7451 | Email: garrisondam@fws.gov

About Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery

Species | Spawning | FAQs | Fact Sheets | Hiking Trails | Partnerships | Public Information | Open / Close All

About Us

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery entrance sign. Credit: USFWS.

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery entrance sign. Credit: USFWS.

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery (NFH) plays a key role in providing quality fishing opportunities throughout the Great Plains Region and in restoring the endangered pallid sturgeon in its northern range. This Federal hatchery is challenged with meeting fish stocking requests from several states, providing in excess of 10 million native fish annually for restoration stockings or balancing fish populations in hundreds of waters. Garrison Dam NFH produces in excess of 25 tons of trout and salmon annually for stocking into North Dakota waters as well. State game and fish agencies in several states such as North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada do not operate hatcheries for cool water fish species such as walleye and pike, and rely on this Garrison Dam NFH to produce these species. In some years, South Dakota and Montana are also provided fish or eggs to cover their fish requests. Garrison Dam NFH is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with cooperative funding through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead Federal agency responsible for stewardship of the nation’s fish and wildlife resources. Although there are some fisheries that can be maintained through natural reproduction, most fisheries today cannot keep up with existing fishing pressure and habitat changes. National Fish Hatcheries have the ability to provide fish necessary to meet the growing needs of the resource and the angler.


Species »

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What types of fish can be found at Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery (NFH)?

  • Brown Trout. Credit: USFWS.

    Brown Trout. Credit: USFWS.

  • Burbot. Credit: USFWS.

    Burbot. Credit: NDGF.

  • Chinook Salmon. Credit: USFWS.

    Chinook Salmon. Credit: NDGF.

  • CR Cutthroat. Credit: USFWS.

    CR Cutthroat. Credit: NDGF.

  • Paddlefish. Credit: USFWS.

    Paddlefish. Credit: USFWS.

  • Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

    Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

  • Rainbow Trout. Credit: USFWS.

    Rainbow Trout. Credit: USFWS.

  • Smallmouth Bass. Credit: USFWS.

    Smallmouth Bass. Credit: NDGF.

  • Walleye. Credit: USFWS.

    Walleye. Credit: NDGF.

  • Yellow Perch. Credit: USFWS.

    Yellow Perch. Credit: NDGF.

Native species like walleye, northern pike, pallid sturgeon, shovelnose sturgeon and non-native fishes such as chinook salmon, and brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, are raised at Garrison Dam NFH annually, each for specific stocking purposes. Some fish require annual stockings to maintain a balanced population. Lakes that have poor habitat or water quality, have experienced winterkill, or even those that are fished excessively are good examples.

Another situation where annual stockings are necessary includes rivers that have been altered by dam construction. The reservoirs created by dams have radically changed habitat and many experience significant water level fluctuations. Many of these altered reservoir habitats are stocked with non-native trout and salmon because the deep coldwater reservoirs are not suited for the survival of native riverine species. Native species such as the pike or walleye may successfully inhabit some areas of the reservoir but often are not able to spawn successfully as a result of water level management designed to provide flood control, hydropower or navigation. Other fish species that are occasionally produced here at Garrison Dam NFH include paddlefish, yellow perch, sauger, burbot, muskellunge, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and bluegill.


Spawning »

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Spawning Fish at the Hatchery - A Year around Cycle

Eggs in upwelling jars. Credit: USFWS.

Eggs in MacDonald jars. Credit: USFWS.

Early spring marks the beginning of the cycle of life for many of our native fishes. Northern Pike, a dominant predator species, are the earliest of the many North Dakota fishes to spawn. As the ice begins to recede from the lake’s edge and snow melt causes increased flows into the river systems, the pike arouse from their period of winter dormancy and migrate into the flooded shallows to spawn. Frame nets set by fishery biologists capture the adult fish and they are stripped of eggs and milt at the site. The eggs are brought to the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery where they are incubated in special hatching jars. The newly hatched fry emerge from the eggs in about two weeks. It will be another week before the fry are able to swim or feed. The ‘swim-up’ fry spend the last month of their stay at the hatchery in ponds which have an abundance of zooplankton, the food necessary to provide for the rapid growth of the fish. At the month’s end, the northern pike fry, now called fingerlings, are a couple inches long and ready for stocking into area lakes. If the fingerlings are left in the ponds any longer, the zooplankton will no longer satisfy their hunger, and the fish will begin to eat each other!

Juvenile Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Juvenile Pallid Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Juvenile pallid sturgeons If you have a taste for the prehistoric, stop by the hatchery in June. The pallid sturgeon, a North Dakota native and an endangered species, are approaching their spawning time. These fish are undoubtedly the strangest looking of the North Dakota fish. The fish has a ‘sucker’ type mouth, beady eyes, whiskers (or barbels), and a body covered with ‘scutes’, a scale like structure that gives them the appearance of having a coat of armor. The fish are a long lived fish, probably more than 50 years, reaching lengths of six feet and 90 pounds. Both the paddlefish and the sturgeon have changed little since the Carboniferous to early Triassic times. During the reign of the dinosaurs 200 million years ago, their ancestors were the dominant freshwater fish. Jurassic Park is alive and well at the fish hatchery!

If you’re in the area, northern pike spawning begins in mid-April, followed by walleye through early May. Paddlefish and pallid sturgeon are spawned in early June. Coldwater species, trout and salmon, are at the station year-around, however if you visit the station in October, you will be able to witness the annual migration of chinook salmon up the hatchery’s salmon creek and watch as eggs are collected from these awesome fish.


FAQs »

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Why was the hatchery built?
Why was Garrison Dam built?
What are the nation’s two largest reservoirs?
When did the hatchery get built?
What impacts did dam construction have on the fish communities?
What fish live in the reservoirs?
When did the hatchery begin its work with the endangered pallid sturgeon?
Can you explain the pallid sturgeon propagation program?
How many pallid sturgeon have you raised and released?
What are the survival rates for pallid sturgeon?
What sorts of visitor opportunities are there at the hatchery?
What are burbot?
What is spawning?
What can you tell me about Chinook salmon?
What is imprinting in salmon?
Why aren’t the hatchery ponds full of water year around?
Are there fish at the hatchery all year long?


Why was the hatchery built?  « Back to top
As you can tell by the hatchery’s name, the original intent of the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery was to provide fish to offset, or mitigate, the impacts to the fish community resulting from the construction of the Garrison Dam.


Why was Garrison Dam built?  « Back to top
Garrison Dam is a federally funded hydroelectric dam built on the Missouri River in North Dakota by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and produce energy. Garrison Dam was completed in 1954 and is the largest in a series of six dams built on the Missouri River as part of the Pick–Sloan Plan and the fourth largest man-made reservoir in the United States. In fact, three of the Pick-Sloan reservoirs on the Missouri River rate in the top five largest reservoirs in the Unites States (Lake Oahe, Lake Sakakawea, and Fort Peck Reservoir).


What are the nation’s two largest reservoirs?  « Back to top
Lake Mead followed by Lake Powell - both on the Colorado River.


When did the hatchery get built?  « Back to top
Construction began on the Garrison Dam NFH in 1961 and the first fish produced; northern pike, walleye and rainbow trout, were stocked in Garrison Reservoir in 1962. As the Garrison Reservoir (later renamed Lake Sakakawea) filled, major changes in the Missouri River were realized.


What impacts did dam construction have on the fish communities?  « Back to top
The Missouri River had a nickname, the Big Muddy. This river historically transported tons of fine sediments from the watershed downstream especially during spring flooding. Now with the series of reservoirs in place, these sediments have dropped out, flooding is a thing of the past and the river runs colder and clear. These changes have had a dramatic effect on where native fish species could live if they were to survive. Most native species are now restricted to areas of the river in between reservoirs. Sixty years later we are still encountering the consequences of dam building on the Muddy Missouri as we began to identify threatened and endangered species. On September 6, 1990 the pallid sturgeon, a Missouri River native, was listed as an endangered species.


What fish live in the reservoirs?  « Back to top
Cold water held in these deep reservoirs and their downstream tailwaters provided an opportunity for introducing non-native species such as trout and salmon. These species are stocked annually in the reservoir and tailwaters. Other native species like paddlefish actually thrive in the reservoir but their ability to successfully spawn has been impacted since spawning success is tied to annual flooding. As a result we occasionally stock this species. Still other native fish like the northern pike and walleye need flooded vegetation or cobble to spawn successfully. Often their spawning success is ruined by water level changes in the reservoir managed to prevent downstream flooding. The lower reaches of the reservoir are often to cold for spawning of native species to occur successfully as well.


When did the hatchery begin its work with the endangered pallid sturgeon?  « Back to top
Pallid sturgeon propagation was first attempted at Garrison in 1996. That year six days were spent in search of brood fish at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and five fish were caught – 4 males and a female. Female sturgeon have a two year reproductive cycle and this female was a year away from spawning, so no luck. The following year we captured a mature female – she was spawned at the hatchery but the eggs didn’t survive. It wasn’t until 1998 that we were first successful at spawning and propagating pallid sturgeon.


Can you explain the pallid sturgeon propagation program?  « Back to top
Working with sturgeon is not like any of the many other species we raise here. The early years were associated with a steep learning curve. As mentioned earlier, sturgeons do not spawn every year. They also do not exhibit sexual dimorphism – you can’t tell between the sexes unless you use ultrasound or a biopsy technique. Getting wild captured pallid sturgeon to spawn in a hatchery is also difficult. We rely on hormone therapy to initiate ovulation and spermiation. If the timing is improper, the released eggs are non-viable and we have lost the opportunity for an endangered species to contribute its genetics to the recovery of the species. So we monitor egg development over time by collecting egg samples with a catheter or biopsy. The position of the nucleus in the egg is monitored to determine the correct time for hormone injections. Stress can have a tremendous impact on the response and we are not always successful. Males undergo a similar hormonally induced spawning process but with males we have an advantage. Males are able to spawn annually and through research, cryopreservation techniques have been developed to successfully freeze milt where it can be stored for years at -321 degrees Fahrenheit. Genetics considerations are of course critical in the recovery of any species. The DNA from every adult broodstock is evaluated using small fin clips to insure our mating strategy is appropriate. The analysis also provides the opportunity to select for fish that may have unique alleles that could possibly enable them to adapt better to the changed river.


How many pallid sturgeon have you raised and released?  « Back to top
Since 1998 this hatchery has released over 275,000 pallid sturgeon fingerlings (3-13 inches in length) and 800,000 larval sturgeons in the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers from Montana to Missouri. Many other fingerlings and eggs from this facility have been transferred to other hatcheries for further growth and stocking.


What are the survival rates for pallid sturgeon?  « Back to top
That’s a work in progress. Based on the current models, survival rates for first year sturgeon range from 5 to 31 percent. Size at release, season, and location of course impact survival. By the time these fish are six years old, survival is thought to be 95 percent or better. Based on current population models, biologists suggest that hatchery stockings have been successful in preventing extinction of this species. Today there may be more juvenile pallids in the Missouri River of Montana and the Dakotas then there ever was. With changes in river flows, warm water releases from the reservoirs and construction of fish bypass structures, this fish may be able to successfully spawn again without hatchery intervention.


What sorts of visitor opportunities are there at the hatchery?  « Back to top
Lots. We have a very diverse fish propagation program with multiple species. Some are spring spawners – pike, walleye, pallids, and paddlefish. Some fall – Chinook salmon. Some in the dead of winter – burbot. So there is a constant change of events at the hatchery. We are open year around and welcome visitors. Large aquariums are located in the visitor center to observe native fish in 400 gallon aquariums. Hiking trails provide a great opportunity to see the outdoors. The trails follow a creek and wetlands area and loop back through a cottonwood forest along the Missouri River. The winter months bring a solitude to the hiking trails and an opportunity for snowshoeing or cross country skiing on a groomed trail.


What are burbot?  « Back to top
Burbot are known by many names including ling, lawyer, eel pout and cod. Burbot are the only freshwater member of the cod family found in North America. Burbot have a holarctic distribution meaning they are found in the Earth’s northern hemisphere both in North America and Europe. Burbot appear scaleless like a catfish, exhibit a green, yellow and brown mottled color and have a single barbel on the chin. Its delicious flavor makes up for its less than desirable reputation of being eel-like and offers another nickname – the poor man’s lobster.


What is spawning?  « Back to top
Spawning is the term used to describe the reproductive process in the life of a fish where eggs are released, fertilized, develop and hatch. The process at the Hatchery attempts to mimic that in the wild, however under controlled hatchery conditions the survival rates are dramatically improved – in most cases well over 90%. Spawning at the hatchery occurs during specific times of the year, depending on the life cycle of that particular species.


What can you tell me about Chinook salmon?  « Back to top
Chinook salmon were first stocked in Lake Sakakawea in 1976 to fill a void that existed in the deep coldwater areas of the reservoir that was essentially uninhabited by game fish. The stockings were successful and soon after the Chinook salmon fisheries were established in Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir and South Dakota’s Lake Oahe as well. Chinook salmon are native to the west coast and are an anadromous fish – they spend the early part of their life in fresh water and migrate to the Pacific Ocean to growth and mature, then return to freshwater where the spawn and subsequently die. Young salmon called ‘smolts’ imprint to the water where they incubated as eggs. In the Missouri River Reservoirs they are unable to complete the ocean migration phase of their life and as a result don’t grow to the size found in their west coast cousins.


What is imprinting in salmon?  « Back to top
Imprinting is the process whereby juvenile salmon instinctively memorize the smell or water chemistry of its natal stream – the stream in which they hatched. As they grow into the smolt stage they migrate downstream imprinting along the way. They reach the ocean and journey thousands of miles for four or five years until they mature and are ready to spawn. The adult salmon then journey back to their natal stream relying on their imprinting cues. In North Dakota all the Chinook salmon are hatched at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. The salmon released in the Missouri River downstream of the dam mature in South Dakota’s Lake Oahe and migrate back to the hatchery where they are guided by their imprinting instincts. It’s awesome to watch these fish each October fighting their way up the tiny creek leading to the hatchery. Fish collected from this creek are spawned in the hatchery completing the cycle of life for this fish.


Why aren’t the hatchery ponds full of water year around?  « Back to top
The hatchery’s 100 acres of ponds are used for production of several native fish species including pike, walleye, burbot, sauger, perch and paddlefish. Most of these species spawn in the spring of the year and consequently the ponds are filled at that time. The biologists add nutrients to the ponds to encourage growth of plankton, the microscopic plants and animals that feed the young fish called fry. The fry grow quickly in the ponds and in about a month are ready to be stocked into area fishing lakes where natural spawning conditions are lacking. For many predatory species like pike and burbot, longer stays in the hatchery ponds result in poor survival since after about a month, the fish’s diet shifts from plankton and invertebrates to other fish.


Are there fish at the hatchery all year long?  « Back to top
Trout, salmon, and sturgeon are at the Hatchery in tanks for about a year where they are supplied with a constant flow of well-oxygenated water and fed a diet made specifically for their growth. The following spring, sturgeon, trout and juvenile salmon, or smolts, are released in North Dakota’s lakes and the Missouri River. The trout provide an ‘instant fishery’ as they are released at ten inches and are ready for the frying pan. Many of these fish are released near urban areas to provide opportunities close to home for kids and adults alike to enjoy.


Fact Sheets »


Hiking Trails »

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Hiking trail at Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. Credit: USFWS.

Hiking trail at Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. Credit: USFWS.

Wetlands Trail Loop
The path you are about to take will enable you to experience a wetland. This wetland was first brought to you compliments of a beaver that dammed the effluent stream feeding from the hatchery. With the completion of the dam, a wetlands was formed which provided homes to a wide variety of birds, mammals, fish, plants, and insects. As you move along the path, take frequent stops to observe your surroundings. Allow yourself to become relaxed and listen to the sounds of nature. Along the route are interpretive signs that will assist you with wildlife identification. Benches and a waterfowl observation blind have been provided for your enjoyment.

The water in this wetlands flows from the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery. The wetlands serve as a natural filter to purify hatchery effluent water. Organic nutrients from fish waste provide the lush growth you observe in the surrounding trees and vegetation. Plankton, the microscopic plants and animals, also thrive on the nutrients and provide the start of the food chain.

Winter waterfowl. Credit: USFWS.

Winter waterfowl. Credit: USFWS.

Throughout the spring and summer months the wetlands give birth to broods of wood ducks and Canada geese. The great blue heron will most likely be seen fishing along the water’s edge for an unsuspecting trout. This wetland is the home of several mammals as well. White-tailed deer, mink, raccoon, muskrat, skunk, and of course, beaver, are some of the animals you may see along the trail.

In the fall, the water flow from the hatchery attracts migrating salmon which are on a spawning run from Lake Oahe. Visitors on the trail in October may be fortunate enough to witness 10 pound salmon leaping the log diversions placed in the narrow constrictions along the stream.

In the winter months the wetlands remains open from the water heated at the hatchery for fish production. The open water provides a late winter refuge for migrating ducks and geese which in turn attract bald eagles. The waterfowl observation blind will give you an opportunity to watch ducks and geese by the hundreds as they stage here on their journey south.


Lewis and Clark Hiking Trail. Credit: USFWS.

Lewis and Clark Hiking Trail. Credit: USFWS.

Lewis and Clark Trail Loop
Garrison Dam NFH has a unique story to tell relating to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Lewis and Clark Trail parallels the Missouri River only a few miles upstream of the historic winter campsite at Fort Mandan near the present town of Stanton. On the morning of April 7, 1805, the expedition broke its winter camp and continued its journey west. Lewis and Clark passed by here that morning in a large wooden sailboat called a pirogue. Along the journey the explorers relied on their hunting and fishing skills to survive. No doubt a few of the 2,800 fish hooks taken along on the journey were lost in this stretch of the Missouri River in pursuit of a meal of sauger, or as Lewis described them “a fish of white colour.’ Obviously a few of the explorers were able fishermen as several fish species were captured and identified in the journals. The scientific name for interior cutthroat trout, Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi and the coastal cutthroat, Oncorhynchus clarki clarki were so named in honor of the men who first described these fish. Garrison Dam NFH currently produces several species of fish including cutthroat trout for stocking into the Missouri River. The hatchery also plays a vital role in the recovery of the endangered pallid sturgeon, a fish species present during the time of the expedition and now facing extinction.

The Lewis and Clark loop offers an experience quite different from that on the Wetlands loop. This trail meanders through a floodplain cottonwood forest and offers up glimpses of the Missouri River and its high banks to the west. The river they saw on their trek through this country was shallow and turbid with flows changing through the seasons and periodic flooding. The Sioux people aptly dubbed the river ‘The Big Muddy.” This river was home to an assemblage of odd looking fish such as the pallid sturgeon, paddlefish, blue sucker, channel catfish, sauger and shortnose gar. These species had evolved to the flows of a muddy raging river, unimpeded by dams and diversions.

The Missouri River we see today looks very different then the river explored by Lewis and Clark. Looking upriver along the trail the Garrison Dam embankment and powerhouse stand out as a sign of what engineering has achieved over the past century in taming the ‘Mighty Mo.’ In fact the lake impounded by the dam, Lake Sakakawea, was renamed as a tribute to the Expedition’s Shoshoni Indian guide Sacagawea.

Along the trail take an occasional glimpse into the overhead cottonwood canopy. The cottonwoods are home to nesting bald eagles, cormorants and turkey vultures. You’ll also notice several fallen trees. The beaver also enjoy the art of dam building and have used the trees you see here for food, shelter and dam construction materials.

Enjoy your outdoors experience. Take only photographs...Leave only footprints.


Partnerships »

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Garrison Dam Partnerships

US Army Corp of Engineers logo.

US Army Corp of Engineers and North Dakota Game and Fish Department logos.

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery has operated with cooperative funding and in-kind support from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department since its inception in 1962. The two agencies, one Federal the other State, have partnered to provide what has been characterized as the most efficient fish hatchery operation in the United States. By combining the strengths of the two agencies we are able to produce fish very efficiently – stocking walleye fingerlings in the Great Plains States at under a penny a piece. More recently we have established a financial partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide funding for production of fish stocked into reservoirs managed by the Corps. Federal funding to operate national fish hatcheries across the country does not come from the sales of fishing licenses but rather is appropriated annually from Congress or through partnerships with other agencies.

In addition to agency partnerships, the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery receives tremendous support from the fishing clubs across the state represented through the North Dakota Sportfishing Congress. A partnership with the Great Planers Trout and Salmon Club enables us to co-host the annual Kids Fishing Day event at the hatchery in September providing an opportunity for challenged kids to experience the thrill of catching trout. Volunteers from across the country arrive each spring at the hatchery to offer their talents assisting hatchery staff with fish production and providing guided tours through the hatchery.

The many dedicated partners and volunteers keep the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery operating to bring recreational angling opportunities, healthy fish populations and economic development to you, your family, and future generations.


Public Information »

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Kids Fishing Derby. Credit: USFWS.

Kids Fishing Derby. Credit: USFWS.

Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery provides many exciting visitor opportunities, and contributes to local communities. Waterfowl, fish and a variety of birds and mammals can be viewed in their natural surroundings year-around.

Open to the public, Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery welcomes visitors to the hatchery for a close-up view of the fish production process. With over 10,000 visitors annually, the dedicated staff and volunteers at the hatchery are happy to answer any questions while you enjoy a hatchery tour. A visitor center at the hatchery complete with five 400 gallon aquariums will give you the pleasure of viewing the fishes of North Dakota in their environment.

If you enjoy the outdoors and are up for a walk, the hatchery has just what you are looking for. The Lewis and Clark and Wetlands Trails provide an excellent opportunity for wildlife observation or simply enjoying the out-of-doors. Birders will find the trail a productive one as many of the feathered species found in this state may be observed along the route. Come often as the experience changes with the seasons. The length is about a mile and a half. You won't be disappointed.

The hatchery is also a proud participant in the annual Physically Challenged Children's Fishing Derby in conjunction with the Great Planers Trout and Salmon Club. The hatchery is located in a recreation area that draws in an excess of 2 million visitors annually. In addition to the hatchery experience, visitors also have a bounty of recreational opportunities to explore in the surrounding area:

  • Camping
  • Hiking/nature trails
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife and bird watching
  • Photography
  • Canoeing and boating
  • Mountain biking
  • Cross country skiing
  • Snowshoeing

The visitor center is open Memorial Day through Labor Day from 8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. The hatchery is open year around. Admission is free. Group tours are available with prior reservations and we are handicapped accessible.

The Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery is located in mid-central North Dakota, an hour's drive north of Bismarck on Highway 83, then west on Highway 200.

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: April 29, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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