D'Arbonne NWR, located north of West Monroe, Louisiana, lies on the western edge of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It was established in 1975 to protect bottomland hardwood forest and provide wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl. Additionally, the refuge provides habitat for alligators, bald eagles, the little known Rafinesque's big-eared bat, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The refuge is bisected by 13 miles of Bayou D’Arbonne, a stream in the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System, and is crisscrossed by numerous creeks, sloughs and oxbow lakes. Cypress swamps, bottomland hardwood and upland forests complete the landscape that is habitat for a diverse group of plants and animals.
In years of normal or above rainfall, the refuge’s bottomland hardwood forest is a very important overflow area for the Ouachita River floodplain. High water levels, which usually occur between January and May, can flood up to 87% of the refuge. The wetland forests not only provide habitat to wetland dependent wildlife, they also reduce damage from flooding in developed areas, filter silt and other particles from the water, help neutralize pollutants and provide recharge areas for aquifers.
D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge was established as mitigation for a large U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation project on the Ouachita River. Its legislative purpose is that the refuge “shall be administered ... for the conservation, maintenance, and management of wildlife, resources thereof, and its habitat thereon, .…” (16 U.S.C. 664) under the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act.
In 1957, Congress authorized the Columbia Lock and Dam as part of the Ouachita and Black Rivers’ Navigation Project. The dam was intended to increase the minimum depth of the navigation channel from 6.5 feet to 9 feet. Since this would result in the permanent flooding of some areas along lower Bayou D’Arbonne, it was necessary for the Army Corps of Engineers to acquire the land to be submerged. The Corps also was interested in purchasing areas adjacent to the permanent pool so that acould be established. At the same time, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was interested in acquiring or leasing some of the same land along the lower Bayou D’Arbonne for use as a greentree reservoir.
At the request of landowners, the state sponsored a public meeting in 1965, so that plans for the future of the lower Bayou D’Arbonne bottomlands could be made public. Eventually the local chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, other local sportsmen, and local congressmen placed their support behind the refuge concept. Partly as a result of this local support, the Rivers and Harbors Act was passed by Congress on December 31, 1970. This Act modified the Ouachita and Black Rivers’ Navigation Project to provide for the establishment of national wildlife refuges in the area affected by the project.
In 1972, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a field investigation to recommend lands for the Corps to purchase for D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge. By 1975, most of the land was acquired, and the refuge was established under an interim management permit with the Department of the Army. The Corps owned the refuge until 1981, when the Service finally acquired the fee title of 17,421 acres of deep overflow swamp, bottomland hardwood forest, and mixed pine/hardwood uplands
Other Facilities in this Complex
D'Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge serves as the headquarters for the North Louisiana Refuges Complex.