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About the Refuge

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“The three large and six smaller rocks, totaling 15 acres, are massive and can be seen from miles and miles away,” says Oregon Coastal Refuge Complex Visitor Services Manager Dawn Harris. “They are a looming presence on the landscape that beckons you to approach. They are near the shore but seem wild and distant from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.”


Three Arch Rocks was a site of wanton depredation in the early 20th century. No laws existed then to protect wildlife on the islands. Several times a week, hunters would row the half-mile from shore to the rocks to kill scores of sea lions for their skins and oil. Egg harvesters took their toll on seabird populations, stealing eggs and selling them for as much as a dollar per dozen in Oregon, California and beyond. Even more disturbing were the shotgun-toting shooters that came to the rocks each Sunday for target practice. These men fired indiscriminately upon the thousands of breeding seabirds, killing them not for meat or feathers but purely for sport. 

Fortunately, this wasteful, unsustainable behavior did not escape the scrutiny of all. Conservationists William L. Finley and Herman Bohlman were photographing wildlife at Three Arch Rocks while camping on Shag Rock in 1901 and were appalled by what they saw: an incredible, unique habitat being destroyed before their eyes. Thanks largely to the efforts of these two young men, the denizens of Three Arch Rocks were spared from human meddling, and remain so to this day. 

After studying and photographing the wildlife on the rocks for several years, Finley brought their findings to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Finley showed their wildlife images to Roosevelt and explained the need to protect dwindling populations from hunters and sportsmen. They stressed that a wildlife sanctuary would ensure the survival of seabird and marine mammal populations in perpetuity. Four years later, on October 14, 1907, Finley and Bohlman's efforts paid off: President Roosevelt had declared Three Arch Rocks a National Wildlife Refuge, the first of its kind west of the Mississippi River.
 
Today, it protects many thousands of nesting seabirds and is a favorite haul-out site for marine mammals such as Harbor Seals and Steller Sea Lions. One of the Oregon coast's best-known landmarks, the refuge comprises nine rocksthree large and six small—totaling 15 acres. All of Three Arch Rocks NWR is designated Wilderness. It's one of the smallest National Wilderness Areas in the country. 

Refuge Headquarters:
Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex
2127 SE Marine Science Drive
Newport, OR 97365
541-867-4550
oregoncoast@fws.gov

 

Last Updated: Feb 18, 2016
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