What We Do

The refuge is managed to provide sanctuary for nesting and wintering seabirds, to protect and preserve the wilderness character of the islands, and provide sandy beach habitat for a variety of wildlife species. To accomplish these management objectives refuge staff monitor wildlife resources and environmental conditions, manage visitor use, and respond to environmental challenges. Recent management has involved working with partners to respond to the problems created by storm damages and oil spills effecting the islands.

Management and Conservation

The 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. Historically the islands supported tremendous numbers of colonial nesting birds.  It was the decimation of these colonies by plume hunters and egg collectors that led to Teddy Roosevelt protecting the islands as Breton Island Federal Bird Reservation.  This reservation would eventually become the second unit — after Pelican Island in Florida — in what would become the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System.

Several hurricanes, including the devastating hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, took a toll on the refuge and wildlife. It would take many years for the islands to recover naturally (if ever) so we initiated small-scale projects, including sand fences, berms, sediment deposits to build up the land, and revegetation to help restore habitat on the islands. We monitor the brown pelicans and other birds that nest on the islands to document their responses and population trends. 

President Teddy Roosevelt boated out to Breton Island in 1915 with the Audubon Society. Breton is the only one of the National Wildlife Refuges first started under his presidency that Roosevelt visited.

When Theodore Roosevelt visited Louisiana in 1915 he wrote: "There is a good chance...that the fish and game will be preserved for use instead of recklessly exterminated; for during the last dozen years Louisiana and Mississippi, like the rest of the Union, have waked to the criminality of marring and ruining a beautiful heritage which should be left, and through wise use (not non-use) can be left, undiminished, to the generations that are to come after us."

Using collaborative, science-based management the FWS supports Roosevelt's natural resource vision for the continued use and enjoyment of our natural heritage for future generations.

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 because an oil facility (now gone) on that island. As wilderness, the islands are managed to retain their relatively wild and untrammeled nature.

Delta and Breton National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Delta and Breton National Wildlife Refuges.

Our Services

Visitors to Breton National Wildlife Refuge, a part of the National Wilderness System, will be rewarded with a unique and wild recreation experience. Whether you visit to fish or to observe and photograph wildlife, you are bound to have a memorable Southeast Louisiana nature adventure!

Our Projects and Research

North Breton Island is an important barrier island in Louisiana. It provides habitat for one of the largest water bird colonies in the state, including one of the largest rookeries for brown pelicans. The island also provides crucial protection for mainland Louisiana, including the City of New Orleans, from storm surge and wave impacts.

We monitor the brown pelicans and other birds that nest on the refuge to assess population trends.

In 2005, the refuge took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina, losing 70% of its land base. Large areas of beach and marsh were destroyed and much of the vegetation that stabilizes the islands and provides habitat for the pelicans and other wildlife was uprooted or damaged. We are working with our partners to respond to the many problems created by storm damages to the islands. It would take many years for the islands to recover naturally (if ever) so we initiated small scale projects like sand-fencing, berms, and revegetation to help restore habitat on the islands. We are monitoring the brown pelicans and other birds that return to nest on the islands to document population trends.

In 2010, Breton NWR was directly impacted by the oil released from the Deepwater Horizon explosion. We immediately responded and organized containment and absorbent booms around the refuge. Shrimp boats turned into oil skimmers patrolled the perimeter of the refuge. In spite of valiant efforts to protect the habitat, impacts to birds and other wildlife on the refuge occurred. 

After the oil spill, federal and state agencies came together to form the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council. The Council studied the effects of the oil spill and is now working to restore the Gulf of Mexico to the condition it would have been in if the spill had not happened. The Council is using $72 million from a historic settlement with BP to increase North Breton Island by hundreds of acres. The project is pumping sand from a local underwater source about three miles away, called a borrow site, and using it to expand the size of the island. The additional acreage will provide nesting habitats for threatened and endangered birds such as the brown pelican and least tern. It will also benefit the red knots and piping plovers that forage for food there in the winter.

This land building restoration work on North Breton Island began in 2020, as the first of 5.87 million cubic yards of dredged sand was placed on the island. This project will add 400 acres of barrier island wildlife habitat to address some of the injuries to birds caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The project was approved in 2014 as one of the three components of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Phase III Early Restoration Louisiana Outer Coast Project.

Law Enforcement

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a law enforcement presence on National Wildlife Refuge lands for wildlife and public safety. Our refuge law enforcement officers protect fish, wildlife, plants and other natural, cultural and historic resources by fostering understanding and instilling in the visiting public an appreciation of refuge resources, laws, and regulations.

Laws and Regulations

Breton National Wildlife Refuge is managed as crucial sanctuary for twenty-three species of seabirds and shorebirds. Day use only is allowed, and areas where birds are nesting are closed to prevent disturbance to the wildlife.