Ouray National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region
General Brochure

The desert of northeastern Utah is a harsh place for wildlife. Less than 7 inches of precipitation fall per year, hardly enough to maintain marshes, lakes, and streams. But the Green River transports water from the mountains of Wyoming to this arid area, and as a result, thousands of waterfowl, songbirds, and other wildlife flock to the river. Ouray National Wildlife Refuge and Ouray National Fish Hatchery are aptly located along this life-sustaining river.

Welcome to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge

About the Refuge

Ouray National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1960 on land purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) with revenue from the sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Federal Duck Stamps). Located 30 miles south of Vernal in northeastern Utah, the Refuge covers 11,987 acres and includes 12 miles of the Green River. A portion of the total Refuge acreage (2,681 acres) is leased from the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservations, which border the Refuge to the south. Ouray NWR is one refuge in a system of more than 550 refuges administered by the Service and dedicated to the preservation and conservation of wildlife.

Refuge Management

Ouray NWR was originally established to serve as a refuge for breeding and migrating waterfowl. More specifically, the primary objective was to provide food and cover for 14 species of nesting ducks. While the purpose for which the Refuge was established has not changed, the methods of achieving the purpose have changed. Management strategies today are focused on managing water to mimic the natural flood plains that existed before dams were erected along the river. Portions of protective levees throughout the Refuge have been removed to allow more frequent flooding. Five bottomlands within the river flood plain - Johnson Bottom, Leota Bottom, Wyasket Lake, Sheppard Bottom, and Woods Bottom - are fed by the river as it winds through the desert. In late May, as natural flooding occurs, ponds are formed, spurring the growth of semi-aquatic plants which provide food and cover for ducks and other wildlife. In addition, these ponds serve as nurseries for the endangered fish species of the Colorado River system. Water is a scarce resource in the desert, and Refuge managers tend it carefully.

On drier portions of the Refuge, approximately 150 acres of land is cultivated by local farmers under a cooperative agreement. Crops planted include alfalfa, grass, barley, and sorghum. A portion of the crop produced is left behind to provide supplemental food and cover for numerous wildlife species.

Wildlife of the Refuge

Ouray NWR is one link in the chain of sparsely distributed wetlands along the Green River corridor that provide much needed habitat for migrating birds. Refuge habitats include the river, riparian woodlands, wetlands, artificial impoundments, croplands, semidesert shrublands, grasslands, and clay bluffs. This diversity of habitat types provides food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife.

The river is used by four endangered fish - the Colorado pikeminnow, the bonytail, Razorback Sucker, and the humpback chub - as well as, catfish, beaver, muskrat, river otter, and waterfowl. In the adjacent riparian woodland, cottonwoods, willows, squawbrush, and currant provide cover for cottontail rabbits, raccoons, mule deer, elk, bobcats, and porcupines. Raptors, including bald and golden eagles, great horned owls, and several species of hawks, also use this habitat.

Greasewood, rabbitbrush, and cacti compete for the limited water of the higher, drier semidesert shrublands. Prairie dogs, jackrabbits, and coyotes are typical residents of this upland habitat type. In May and June, the desert is painted with the colors of an amazing variety of wildflowers. These uplands are also home to the endangered Uintah Basin hookless cactus.

Equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from programs and activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is available to all individuals regardless of physical or mental disability. For visitors using TTY, contact the Utah Relay Service at 1 800 / 346 4128. For more information or to address accessibility needs, please contact Refuge staff at 435 / 545 2522, Hatchery staff at 435 / 789 0351, or the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Equal Opportunity, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20240.

Last updated: October 23, 2012