North Louisiana Refuge Complex
Southeast Region
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About our Refuges

Graphic of a deer.

D'Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge

D'Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge was established on May 19, 1975 in mitigation for the Ouachita and Black Rivers Navigation Project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). It encompasses 17,421 acres and is located in northeastern Louisiana (Ouachita and Union Parishes), approximately 23 miles south of the Arkansas border and 6 miles north of West Monroe, LA. This area marks the beginning of the floodplain of the Mississippi River (western edge) and its tributaries. Eight miles long and averaging 4 miles wide, the refuge consists of bottomland hardwood forest (10,286 acres), upland forest (3,000 acres), cleared bottomland (2,000 acres), and permanent water area (2,135 acres).

The central physical feature is the Bayou D'Arbonne, 13 miles of which lie within refuge boundaries. The Bayou meanders through a 2-4 mile wide floodplain characterized by alluvial soils deposited during the last several thousand years. Its elevation ranges from approximately 49 feet MSL to 70 feet MSL. Surrounding bluffs and hills rise to elevations as high as 170 feet MSL.

The permanent water area on the refuge includes oxbow lakes, side channels of Bayou D'Arbonne, and that part of the bottomland flooded on a year-round basis. This flooding results from backwater from the Columbia Lock and Dam on the Ouachita River, which is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The level of the permanent pool has been maintained at 52 feet MSL. Levels exceeding this are normally the result of precipitation in the upper Ouachita River basin, usually occurring from January through May. However, high water levels may occur at other times of the year, depending on rainfall. They may rise as high as 82 feet MSL, which inundates approximately 87% of the refuge. This prevalent and dramatic change in water level imposes quite a challenge to refuge management activities.

The complex variety of environments on D'Arbonne NWR provide excellent habitat for a diversity of migratory birds and resident wildlife species -- the purpose for establishment of the refuge. Other objectives include: preserve bottomland hardwoods and provide wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl; provide habitat and protection for endangered species (red- cockaded woodpecker and bald eagle); provide opportunities for environmental education, interpretation, and wildlife-oriented recreation.

The refuge office is located 6 miles north of West Monroe on the refuge. The Upper Ouachita NWR, located 21 miles to the north, is also managed from this office.

Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge was established on November 20, 1978. It is located in Union and Morehouse Parishes in north- central Louisiana. The 20,905-acre refuge is bounded on the north by the Arkansas state line, on the east by the Ouachita River and on the west and south by private land. From north to south it measures approximately eighteen miles and varies in width from one to six miles. One half mile of private land divides the refuge into northern and southern units.

The topography is flat in the Ouachita River flood plain, with rolling hills present along most of the western boundary. Elevations range from 52 feet MSL at the river's edge to almost 85 feet MSL in the northwest portion of the refuge. Approximately three-fourths of the area is inundated annually by backwater flooding from December to June.

The major habitat type is 14,500 acres of seasonally-flooded bottomland hardwood forest. Other habitat types include 2,000 acres of open water, 1,870 acres of shrub swamp, 1,600 acres of wooded swamp, 400 acres of upland forest, and 160 acres of cleared bottomland (formerly agricultural lands). The balance of the refuge is composed of roads, pipeline rights-of-way, and gas well clearings.

Acquisition was authorized by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the Wetlands Extension Act. Current acreage is only part of the proposed 36,000. The land was purchased from the Pennzoil Producing Company, and no additional lands have been acquired since refuge establishment. Approximately 1,000 acres of private inholdings lie within the current boundary. Approximately 375 natural gas wells are located on the refuge; no mineral rights were obtained in the land transfer.

The surrounding area is predominantly rural. Union Parish's population totals 21,167 (1980 census). The economy of the area is based on forest products, natural gas production, agriculture, and light industry.

Upper Ouachita NWR was primarily established to protect bottomland hardwood habitat and provide habitat for wintering waterfowl. Other objectives include providing wildlife-oriented recreation. It is administered from the D'Arbonne NWR office, 21 miles to the south near Rocky Branch, LA. A shop building is located on the refuge, 4 miles east of Haile, LA.

Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuge

The first fee title of a Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) tract in Region 4 resulted in the establishment of Handy Brake NWR. An observation platform allows visitors to overlook the permanent water with its myriad of wildlife. Prairie grasses seem to be established on the remaining refuge area. A beautiful small prairie on private land adjacent to Handy Brake is managed by the landowner under the Partner’s program and provides a spectacular bloom of wildflowers in season.

Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Black Bayou Lake NWR was established in 1997 as a unique partnership with the City of Monroe. The lake, a scenic natural water body located in northeast Ouachita Parish approximately 4 miles north of Monroe, is owned by the city and serves as their secondary water source. The FWS has a free ninety-nine year lease under which it manages an overlay refuge on the city’s property in conjunction with adjacent FWS owned lands.

Black Bayou Lake is a beautiful natural lake that contains picturesque and stately cypress and tupelo trees. The lake is surrounded by swamps that graduate into bottomland hardwoods which then integrate to almost pure stands of Loblolly pine. Black Bayou Lake supports an excellent fishery resource and also provides valuable habitat for resident and migratory waterfowl and neotropical migratory songbirds.

Last updated: March 9, 2010