Little More About Salt Plains NWR
Plains National Wildlife Refuge is one unit in a system of over
540 refuges (each blue dot) scattered throughout the United States
which provides nearly 95 million acres of wildlife/wildland habitat.
The Salt Plains
NWR was established by executive order of President Herbert Hoover
on March 26, 1930 as a refuge and breeding ground for birds. The
refuge provides habitat for approximately 312 species of birds
and 30 species of mammals. To maintain the purpose of the refuge,
all activities on refuge lands and water are strictly controlled;
please consult regulations.
hundreds of refuges spread across the nation all work together
for a common goal to provide habitat for wildlife, from the most
endangered to the most common animals.
Salt Plains is one of 9 Oklahoma National Wildlife Refuges. Oklahoma
is part of Region 2, the Southwest Region, which also includes
Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
like many refuges, was created to be a rest-stop for migrating
birds. Peak waterfowl populations at Salt Plains NWR during migration
is 100,000 geese and 70,000 ducks. American White Pelicans migrate
in mid-September with numbers ranging up around 40,000. The refuge
is also a stop-over point for Sandhill Cranes, the endangered
Whooping Cranes and the recovering population of Bald Eagles.
The peak population of Bald Eagles during migrations is 25-30
is divided into almost equal parts of salt flats, open water, and
vegetated land (marsh, woods, grasslands, and cropland).
prescribed burning, and wetland draining/flooding are management
tools used to enhance the habitat for wildlife. Many ponds and
marshes have been built to encourage the growth of wild millet,
alkali bulrush, smartweed, and other moist soil plants that waterfowl
use for food.
on the marshes allows plants to grow and seed at optimum levels
for waterfowl use.
This kind of management requires calculated flooding and draining
of the wetlands throughout the year. This imitates the natural
rain cycle in a wetland to dry out while important seeds establish
and then to fill for waterfowl habitat use.
acres of Salt
refuge's namesake, the salt flats, are a unique geological area.
The 11,000-acre barren area is nearly flat (actually has a slope
of 4 to 8 ft towards the reservoir) with a wafer thin salt crust.
The salt was formed by repeated flooding by sea water millions
of years ago. The sea water was cut off from the sea and evaporated,
depositing thick layers of salt.
The area was
subsequently covered by erosion from mountain ranges. Below the
plains, ground water travels through the salt-saturated sand and
comes to the surface where it evaporates, leaving the crust of
salt. The concentrated saline solution combines with gypsum to
promote selenite crystal growth in a portion of the salt flats.
salt flats may be devoid of vegetation but not of wildlife. The
area is a major nesting site for the endangered interior least
tern, the threatened western snowy plover, and the American avocet.
on the salt flats generally nest directly on the ground, making
it difficult to see their eggs from a distance. Traditional nests
built of twigs/grasses/etc are built by birds for hiding their
young and caring for them as they develop.
shorebirds nesting on the salt flats hatch young that are precocial
and will not remain in a protective nest. Some young are running
around foraging for food within hours of hatching.
The flats are also a major migration rest area
for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds during spring, summer,
and fall. While vegetation on the flats is sparse, they feed on
the salt brine flies that hatch when water is available.
During the winter, whooping cranes utilize the
edge of the lake and the salt flats to have a large area with
no vegetation for predators to use as hiding spots. From the observation
tower at the southwest part of the refuge, high-powered binoculars
or a scope can generally spot them during migration. Early morning
as the sun rises is the best time to look for them as many cranes
arrive at the refuge in the middle of the night or after the sun
has gone down.
often be found foraging in wheat fields either alone or with sandhill
cranes during the fall days. They are easy to identify, standing
approx. 4.5 feet tall.
geese, pelicans or egrets are misidentified as whooping cranes.
Look for the long neck, long legs and black wing tips.
for wildlife is a complex task. Salt Plains National Wildlife
Refuge must be carefully protected and managed to provide the
best habitat for a broad array of wildlife.
habitat is a home that provides the necessities - food, water, shelter
and space for the animals. The loss of large, continuous areas of
quality habitat has been detrimental to many wildlife species and
the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system seeks to provide ample
habitat to support wildlife in America.