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About the Refuge

American coots run along the water


Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge lies in northern Utah, where the Bear River flows into the northeast arm of the Great Salt Lake.  The Refuge protects the marshes found at the mouth of the Bear River; these marshes are the largest freshwater component of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.  Since these marshes are in turn surrounded by arid desert lands, it is little wonder that they have always been an oasis for waterbirds and wildlife. 

More About the Refuge

Bear River MBR is one of the over 550 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System - a network of lands set aside and managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service specifically for wildlife. The Refuge and other wetlands associated with the Great Salt Lake provide critical habitat for migrating birds, over 250 species moving through this area annually by the millions to rest and feed.  As part of the Bear River Bay, the Refuge is designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site, a globally important shorebird area.
Today, Bear River MBR contains nearly 80,000 acres of marsh, open water, uplands, and alkali mudflats.  The marshes and open water are managed using a complex system of dikes and water control structures to provide a variety of water depths suitable for the needs of different waterbird species. The Refuge is an excellent place to observe wildlife along a 12-mile auto tour route, as well as enjoying hunting, fishing and wildlife photography.


In the 1920s, due to the loss of marshes and huge bird die-offs from botulism, local individuals and organizations urged Congress to protect this valuable resource in Northern Utah, and in 1928, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was created by Presidential Proclamation. 


 Time Line

1903:  As settlers moved into the area, ambitious projects were undertaken to divert great quantities of Bear River water for use by upstream settlements and farms. The marshes began to dry. 

1920: Only two or three thousand acres of the original forty-five thousand acres of wetland were left. The loss of wetlands through drying was a serious problem affecting the survival of migrating birds.

1928: Avian botulism created gruesome scenes of hundreds of thousands of dead and dying birds. The public’s reaction to these deadly epidemics brought action, and Congress passed an act to make the Bear River delta a National Wildlife Refuge.

1931: 50 miles of dike and water control structures were completed. 

1964: A record 79,000 ducklings were produced at Bear River Refuge.

1982: New Visitor Center was dedicated, and thousands of people came to see the wetlands and birds of the Bear River Delta.

1983: With years of record precipitation, Great Salt Lake began to rise. The rising water eventually overtook refuge dikes, contaminating the fresh water habitats with saline lake water, destroying the new visitor center and other structures.  In short, the refuge was rendered 

1990: The waters of Great Salt Lake receded, and dikes and the remains of buildings became visible. Refuge employees, aided by scores of volunteers, began working to restore the refuge.

1993: New critical breeding habitat was added to the refuge. This grassland area near Interstate 15 offers habitat for nesting waterfowl.

1997: Over 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt was moved to restore and improve the old dikes.

2000: The habitat recovered and began supporting millions of birds. Bear River again became a very crucial component of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem.

2003: The National Wildlife Refuge System celebrated its centennial.  Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge celebrated its 75th birthday.

2006: The new visitor education center and office complex opened

Last Updated: Mar 02, 2017
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