About the Refuge


Working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

--U.S.F.W.S. Mission Statement


Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge is located within four miles of the Mississippi River in rural northwest Tennessee, about 35 miles north of the city of Dyersburg and 15 miles southwest of Union City.  It encompasses part of Lake and Obion counties in Tennessee, and extends northward into Fulton County, Kentucky.   

The most significant recent geological event, which shaped the present-day landscape of the Reelfoot Lake area, was the New Madrid earthquakes.  This series of earthquakes, which shook the area from December 1811 through February 1812, is reported as being the most significant to hit the continental United States in recorded history.  These earthquakes reportedly caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards when an area just south of the Reelfoot refuge, known as the Tiptonville Dome, was thrust violently upward into the path of the river.  Likewise, an area as much as 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, by some accounts, sank up to 50 feet, creating a sunken forest and forming the present-day Reelfoot Lake.

Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge was established on August 28, 1941, under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Subsequent lands for the refuge were acquired under the authority of the Refuge Recreation Act  and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The refuge was specifically authorized “... for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds” (Migratory Bird Conservation Act), and is “... suitable for (1) incidental fish and wildlife-oriented recreational development, (2) the protection of natural resources, (3) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species ...” (Refuge Recreation Act). Further, lands acquired under the Endangered Species Act have additional purposes, described as “... to conserve (A) fish or wildlife, ... or (B) plants, ... which are listed as endangered species or threatened species ... ” (Endangered Species Act of 1973). 

In conjunction with their primary establishing purposes, these refuges will provide inviolate sanctuaries for migratory birds and preserve for the public benefit a representative portion of the bottomland hardwood forests of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. The refuges would also help support the priorities established by the Service’s Lower Mississippi River Valley Ecosystem Team.  These ecosystem priorities involve migratory bird populations and their habitats; wetlands; threatened and endangered species and their habitats; fisheries and aquatic resources; and national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2000b).