More than 15,000 acres of Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is federally designated wilderness. Wilderness is protected to ensure that nature, not people, is the primary influence on this quiet, scenic place.
Forest in the Desert?
At one time, the banks of the Colorado River were lined with cottonwood and willow forests, sustained by the rivers natural periodic flooding. Animals depended on this green forest oasis for breeding, resting, feeding, and shade.
Woodcutting during the steamboat era, clearing for agriculture, wild fire, exotic plants like salt cedar, and use of dams for flood prevention have devastated cottonwood and willow stands along the lower Colorado River. Some animals that depend on these forests, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher, have become endangered.
Refuge staff are working with other agencies and organizations to plant cottonwood and willow trees. From the observation tower, look for patches of restored forest.
Ducks, geese, shorebirds, and other waterbirds flock to the lower Colorado River each year to spend the winter. Refuge staff and volunteers restore wetlands, protect backwater lakes, manage marsh units, and farm croplands to provide food and resting areas for these winter residents.