Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Refuge History

Historic rice field trunk. Credit:  Genevieve Bailey-Rogers & Jason Rogers

Historic rice field trunk. Credit: Genevieve Bailey-Rogers & Jason Rogers

The area surrounding the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, which includes the port city of Savannah, Georgia, is rich in history.  After thousands of years of use by various Indian tribes and cultures, the first European visitor arrived in 1526. James Oglethorpe established the city of Savannah in 1773. By the mid-eighteenth century, rice planters were farming much of the land that is now part of the refuge.  The old rice levees, which were built by hand, form the basis for our current impoundment dikes.  Remnants of the original rice field trunk water control structures and narrow dikes are still visible in some places.  Within the impoundment system there are 36 historic and prehistoric archeological sites which have been located and inventoried.

On April 6, 1927, Executive Order No. 4626 established the Savannah River Bird Refuge and set aside 2,352 acres as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.  On November 12, 1931, Executive Order No. 5748 added 207 acres to the refuge and renamed the area the Savannah River Wildlife Refuge.  An additional 6,527 acres were assigned to the refuge on June 17, 1936, by Executive Order No. 7391.  On July 30, 1940, Presidential Proclamation 2416 renamed the refuge the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  These three Executive Orders established the 9,086 acre core of the present refuge; subsequent acquisition using Duck Stamp funds and other special funding added 3,557 acres.  An additional 459 acres were added when the fee title to Hog Marsh Island and adjacent lands to the north were acquired through an exchange of spoilage rights with Chatham County, Georgia.  In 1964, Savannah Electric and Power Company deeded 34 acres to the refuge in exchange for a power line right-of-way.  In 1978, the 12,472-acre Argent Swamp tract was purchased from Union Camp Corporation using Land and Water Conservation Funds.  Bear Island (687 acres) was purchased in fee title, from a private individual, on October 19, 1993.  In order to straighten our east boundary, two tracts totaling 54 acres were purchased from Union Camp Corporation on August 27, 1996. The Barrows tract (535 acres), which lies adjacent to our southeast boundary, was purchased in fee title during 1998.  Another tract of land was added onto the mid-western portion of the refuge; the Solomon tract was purchased in 1999 and is 887 acres.  The total current refuge acreage is 29,175.


Last updated: February 15, 2011