About Us

Breton National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of a sixty-mile long crescent of barrier islands, including Breton Island and the Chandeleur Islands, in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Gulfport, Mississippi and east of New Orleans.  The exposed barrier islands of Breton National Wildlife Refuge are composed of open sand, shell beaches and overwash (areas washed over by high tides and exposed at other times), with black mangrove, wax myrtle, marsh, dune grasses, and other shrubby vegetation. Access is by boat only and, due to shallow water, visitors usually must anchor offshore and wade onto the island.

Our Mission

Breton National Wildlife Refuge has some of the largest seabird colonies in the nation and has been identified as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy. Twenty-three species of seabirds and shorebirds frequently use the refuge, and thirteen species nest on the islands. The most abundant nesters are brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and royal, Caspian, and sandwich terns. The refuge provides important wintering habitat for the federally threatened piping plover. Over 10,000 brown pelicans have been recorded nesting on the refuge. Waterfowl winter nearby and use the shallows, marshes, and sounds for feeding and shelter. 

The refuge, established in 1904 by an executive order signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, is the second oldest refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The islands of Breton NWR (except for North Breton Island) were designated as the Breton Wilderness, part of the National Wilderness System in 1975. North Breton Island was excluded from this designation because an oil facility (now gone) was located there. 

Our History

An Early Refuge

In the early 1900's President Theodore Roosevelt learned of the over-harvesting of waterbirds and the destruction of their eggs on Chandeleur and Breton islands.  He created the Breton Island Reservation to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for these birds and other wildlife species. Roosevelt visited the islands in June 1915; it is the only refuge the "Conservation President" ever visited. The reserve name was changed to Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in 1938.

Breton Wilderness

Visitors to the Refuge will find a place of relatively wild character. In 1964 our nation formally acknowledged the benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our country. That year, in a nearly unanimous vote, Congress enacted landmark legislation —the Wilderness Act— which permanently protected some of the special natural and undisturbed places in America. Most of Breton National Wildlife Refuge is part of this National Wilderness System.

A lighthouse built at the north end of the Chandeleurs in the late 19th century stood until Hurricane Katrina took it out in 2005.
A Unique and Dynamic Environment

The barrier islands of the Gulf Coast create a natural buffer zone between open water and the mainland, protecting cities like New Orleans from wind and storm surge. The islands of the refuge are dynamic, their sizes and shapes constantly sculpted and shifted by currents, storms, and tides.

At one time the islands were much larger, and prior to a 1915 hurricane, Breton Island had a fishing village with a school and several homes. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina washed over the islands in 2005 and washed away more of the island. Today, only wildlife inhabit the ever-shrinking islands as sea-level rise, subsidence, storms, wind, and waves reconfigure the coastal landmass.

Other Facilities in this Complex

Breton National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Complex. The Southeast Louisiana Refuges are part of a rich ecological system which includes marshes, pine and bottomland hardwood forests, lakes, barrier islands, swamps and bayous. Ranging from the marshy delta at the mouth of the Mississippi, to the wetlands that help protect New Orleans from hurricanes and provide a nursery to the fisheries that support the region’s food economy, to the wild bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin; your Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges preserve wildlife, habitat, and recreation opportunities representative of this unique part of the country.

All of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges are open to public visits for nature-based recreational enjoyment. Priority public uses are hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation.

The refuge complex headquarters is located at 61389 Hwy 434, Lacombe, Louisiana 70445. This site also hosts the Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center and has walking trails that wind through an historic garden site and along Bayou Lacombe.