Skip Navigation


  • San Andres 75th Anniversary logo / © Kim Van Zandt

    Our Diamond Anniversary

    San Andres National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating its 75th Anniversary throughout 2016! The refuge was established January 22, 1941!

    Our 75th Anniversary logo image - enlarged

  • Mule deer cactus buck showing grinning teeth / Refuge remote camera, USFWS

    Remote Trail Camera Selfies

    This month, the Southwest Region website is showcasing San Andres National Wildlife Refuge's remote trail camera photographs! See below.

    Wildlife Selfies

  • Young bull elk / Refuge remote camera, USFWS

    Sharing Our Firsts With You

    With our refuge closed to the public, we're highlighting animals seen for the first time on the refuge since its establishment in 1941!

  • Black bear photographed on the refuge (blonde coated) / M. Weisenberger, USFWS

    Most Startling!

    A few years ago, the first documented and photographed black bear was sighted on the refuge! A few more are seen today. Blonde coat color.

    North American black bear

  • Javelina trio / Refuge remote camera, USFWS

    Having a "Rootin" Good Time!

    Javelina, or collared peccary, are regularly seen on the refuge now! Their rooting behavior digs up cactus and plants to feed upon.

Looking Towards the Future

Established in 1941

Desert bighorn sheep ram / M. Weisenberger, USFWS

San Andres National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 by Executive Order 8646 for the “conservation and development of natural wildlife resources.” Primary emphasis since founding of the Refuge has been the restoration and management of a native desert bighorn sheep herd (Ovis canadensis mexicana). When the Refuge was established in 1941, there were approximately only 31-33 desert bighorn sheep inhabiting the San Andres Mountains. The desert bighorn sheep was a State of New Mexico listed Threatened and Endangered species up until 2011. After years of relocation and protection efforts, the species count is now up to over 600 animals statewide! San Andres National Wildlife Refuge has played a significant role in the desert bighorn's recovery, with the count of sheep on the Refuge estimated at a minimum of 176 today! At one time there was only one remaining desert bighorn sheep ewe from the original native San Andres Mountain range herd! You can read the full story on this amazing ewe in our "On the Road to Recovery" section below at the bottom of this page, and within an additional link to our "Recovery of the Desert Bighorn" page. In addition to the desert bighorn sheep, thirty seven species of mammals have been documented on the Refuge including: desert mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, gray fox, desert cottontail, jack rabbit, ring-tailed cat, skunk, porcupine, raccoon, bats, rock and ground squirrel, black bear, an occasional elk, and a wide variety of rodents that are typical of western mountains and deserts. More than 175 bird species inhabit the Refuge for all or part of the year. Just over fifty (50+) new bird species have been documented for the Refuge since 1993! A variety of raptors including golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, and turkey vulture are seen daily. The Greater roadrunner (New Mexico's State bird) and the Gambel's and Scaled quail are common. More than 45 species of reptiles occur on the Refuge including several species of rattlesnake and a variety of non-poisonous snakes, collared lizard, Texas horned lizard, and several other lizard species. Amphibian species include the red spotted toad. Initial studies of invertebrates include 40 species of butterflies, 24 species of damselflies, and 18 species of dragonflies. Several of the damselflies and dragonflies are new county records for Doña Ana County. Because there is restricted access onto the Refuge and the lands remain relatively undisturbed, the future will continue to provide the Refuge with opportunities to serve as a natural laboratory in support of research on the southwestern plants and animals, Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems, ground water movement and distribution status, fire effects (from managed fuels reduction prescribed fires and natural lightning strike fires), and historical/cultural sites. The Refuge routinely conducts management objective prescribed fires to improve and restore habitat for native species such as desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, and quail. Since the Refuge's first prescribed fire in 1999, more than 57,000 acres have been treated. A priority for the Refuge is monitoring and managing nonnative species which impact the conservation of the natural wildlife resources. Inventorying the invasive plant species, saltcedar (Tamarix chinensis) spans across boundaries of federal land ownership in the San Andres Mountains. Saltcedar is a very dense, proliferate, sunlight and water consuming introduced plant that absorbs the natural water supply from native plants. It also creates large deposits of salt in the soil, which prevents other plants from growing in these tainted areas. Interagency control of this damaging plant protects sensitive riparian habitat and other remote areas in this desert mountain range, contributing to the benefit of the greater landscape. The Refuge has been and will continue to be an important factor in the overall effort to protect those unique plant and animal resources within the San Andres Mountain range.

About the NWRS

National Wildlife Refuge System


The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.

Learn more about the NWRS  

Follow NWRS Online


Remembering Our Past

  • 75 Years of History

    Pat Garrett portrait

    With this being San Andres National Wildlife Refuge's 75th Anniversary this calendar year (2016), we are reflecting on the famous history of the San Andres Mountain range. This southern New Mexico Refuge continues to reveal when native Mescalero Apache Indians lived within, hunted throughout, and defended the extensive San Andres Mountain Range from unwelcome homesteaders, ranchers, and miners. Famous outlaws such as Billy the Kid regularly moved through the Tularosa Basin, and Doña Ana County Sheriff Pat Garrett lived and ranched in the San Andres Mountains. Rusted cables, pulleys, buckets, and carts from early copper, lead, zinc, and gold mining operations still remain on various steep sides of the mountain range. Embedded wagon wheel tracks from trips to secure salt on the east side of the mountain range may still be found today. Remains of remote rock houses, remnants of corrals constructed from rock walls and sections of stick branch fencing, as well as historic ranch’ buildings, stables, and dry irrigation wells - are still found throughout the Refuge. The Refuge was primarily established, in 1941, to restore a native, remnant herd of desert bighorn sheep and continues to focus on the conservation of the desert bighorn sheep. The Refuge is a protective home to a variety of Chihuahuan desert native animal and plant life.

  • Historic Legends

    Apache Chief Victorio / Wikimedia Commons

    The refuge’s namesake, the San Andres Mountains, was named in honor of Saint Andrew the Apostle by early Spanish settlers at the tiny village of Las Padillas. Legends of lost gold mines and outlaws create a rich history for the San Andres Mountains. The area was occupied as early as 900 A.D. by Native Americans. The mountains are reported to have been the stomping grounds of Black Jack Ketchem and the Apache Warrior Geronimo. Apache Chief Victorio also frequented the San Andres Mountains with his warriors, and fought skirmishes with the United States Cavalry.

  • Pioneering Refuge Manager

    28 hour old desert bighorn sheep lamb

    San Andres National Wildlife Refuge's second Refuge Manager, Cecil Kennedy, was a real cowboy. He served as the refuge's Manager for 23 years before his retirement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was one of the last refuge managers to conduct wildlife surveys on foot and horseback. A quote, from one of Kennedy's fellow refuge employees, Tom Emanuel, describes Kennedy as “looking like John Wayne.” "He was daring on horseback. He would do things others would consider risky, to cover the area. He was very good at what he did.” Tom Emanuel also remembers how "Kennedy loved those sheep." (This referred to a native, remnant herd of desert bighorn sheep. It was for the preservation and protection of this historic herd that initiated the establishment of San Andres National Wildlife Refuge.) Kennedy conducted ground surveys on the refuge to make sure every desert bighorn lamb was counted. The photo above is of a 28 hour old bighorn lamb whose birth was observed by refuge staff.

    A Look Back . . . Cecil Kennedy
  • View Our Photos From The Past

    Wood engraved boundary sign 150 x 119

    View our Historical Photo Gallery in the link below. Throughout this calendar year, we will add various features on our website to Celebrate our 75th Anniversary. A few of these additions will be: audio files from decades past refuge employees, continuing black and white photographs, and creation of a refuge Facebook page. Check back regularly on our website to see updated content.

    Historic refuge photographs
Page Photo Credits — Refuge desert bighorn sheep ewes and young ram in crevice / © C. Rodden, ES-WSMR, San Andres 75th Anniversary logo / © Kim Van Zandt, Mule deer cactus buck with grinning teeth / Refuge remote camera, USFWS, Young bull elk / Refuge remote cameras, USFWS, Black bear photographed on the refuge (blonde coated) / M. Weisenberger, USFWS, Javelina trio / Refuge remote camera, USFWS, Desert bighorn sheep ram / M. Weisenberger, USFWS, Pat Garrett, Doña Ana County Sheriff / © Wikimedia Commons, Apache Chief Victorio / © Wikimedia Commons, 28 hour old desert bighorn sheep lamb whose birth was observed by refuge staff / USFWS, Desert bighorn sheep ewe with lamb / © C. Rodden, ES-WSMR
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2016
Return to main navigation