On foggy days, a massive silhouette encircled by ocean transports
your imagination to times past. If you were close to the refuge
in spring the raucous calls of more than 100,000 nesting Common
Murre would fill your ears. Designated as the first National Wildlife
Refuge west of the Mississippi River, Three Arch Rocks Refuge lies ½ mile offshore of the community of
Oceanside. One of the Oregon coast's best-known landmarks, the
refuge consists of three large and six smaller rocks totaling
15 acres. The refuge is one of the smallest National Wilderness
Areas in the country.
Download a PDF map of Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge (1.9 MB).
Refuge Planning and Management
The Oregon Coast Refuge Complex completed a planning process for the long term management of wildlife, habitat, and public use activities on Cape Meares, Oregon Islands, and Three Arch Rocks Refuges. For more information, visit our CCP site.
Wildlife and Habitats
The rocks provide habitat for Oregon's largest breeding colony
of Tufted Puffins. These flamboyant birds with their large bright
orange beaks and long yellow head tufts are one of the most recognizable
seabirds on the Oregon coast. Other seabird species breeding on this refuge include Leach's Storm-petrel, Brandt's Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot.
The refuge also supports the largest breeding colony of Common
Murre south of Alaska and is the only pupping site on the north
Oregon coast for Steller sea lion. Measuring
10' in length and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, the Steller sea
lion is the larger of the two sea lions found on the Oregon coast.
The History of Three Arch Rocks Refuge
Three Arch Rocks was established as a National Wildlife Refuge
largely due to the efforts of two young men. Conservationists
William L. Finley and Herman Bohlman began photographing the wildlife
at Three Arch Rocks from the town of Oceanside in 1901. Several
times a week they witnessed hunters row to the rocks to kill scores
of sea lions for their skins and oil. Even more disturbing, were
the sportsmen that came to the rocks each Sunday for target practice.
On these days, thousands of seabirds were exterminated, not for
their meat or feathers, but purely for sport. Egg harvesting was
also taking its toll on seabird populations. Due to the lack of
chicken farms in California at this time, seabird eggs were very
valuable and sold for as much as a dollar per dozen.
After studying and photographing the wildlife on the rocks for several years, Finley brought their findings to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Finley showed the images of the wildlife of Three Arch Rocks to Roosevelt and explained the need to protect dwindling populations from hunters and sportsmen. They stressed that a wildlife sanctuary would ensure the survival of seabird and marine mammal populations. Four years later on October 14, 1907, Finley and Bohlman's efforts were rewarded when President Roosevelt declared Three Arch Rocks a National Wildlife Refuge. Today, it protects over a quarter million nesting seabirds and is a favorite haulout site for marine mammals. It is the oldest National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi River.
Below are some of Finley and Bohlman's photography from their early 20th century trip to Three Arch Rocks. These images are provided by the Audubon Society of Portland. Click on the thumbnails to view larger versions. For more images, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Digital Repository.
Three Arch Rocks NWR can best be viewed from the mainland at
Cape Meares and in the town of Oceanside. To prevent disturbance
to extremely sensitive seabirds, Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife
Refuge is closed to public entry year-round and waters within
500 feet of the refuge are closed to all watercraft from May 1st
through September 15th.
Both Cape Meares and Oceanside are located on the Three Capes
Scenic Route west of Tillamook. When approaching Tillamook on
US Highway 101, follow signs for the Three Capes Scenic Route.