Little River National Wildlife Refuge’s primary purpose is to preserve the bottomland hardwood forests for migratory birds and waterfowl on the Central Flyway. The 14,216-acre refuge was established in 1987 as the nation’s 438th refuge, and protects one of the largest remaining areas of bottomland hardwood forests found in Oklahoma. The refuge features low, wet habitat with old oxbow lakes and sloughs that wind their way throughout the bottomland habitat. Most of the refuge is forested with bottomland species such as willow oak, overcup oak, Shumard oak, sweetgum, cypress, white oak, and holly. Some areas on higher ground support species such as loblolly pine, hickory, and walnut.
As you gaze at the wildlands protected by Little River National Wildlife Refuge you might be able to picture a prehistoric people who hunted and gathered here between 6,000 and 10,000 B.C., a time known as the Archaic period. Archeologists know that the culture began to change by about 100 A.D. Pottery shards from the area show us that these people may have begun farming by 800 A.D. This culture emerged as the Caddoan speaking people, known for mound building and ceremonial burial practices. Mounds exist on the refuge but were disturbed by forestry practices prior to the establishment of the refuge. The Caddoan people left this area by the time Europeans explored Little River in the early 1700s. A century later, in 1830, the Choctaw Indians arrived at the end of the “Trail of Tears.” Thousands of native Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi and relocated to southeast Oklahoma.
McCurtain County was named for a tribal member who became the Chief of the Choctaw Nation. His three sons each served as chief. The Choctaw and other settlers started clearing the forests to grow corn and cotton. By the mid-1900s, major timber companies like Weyerhaeuser, arrived to log forests and eventually start loblolly pine plantations. The bottomland forests preserved at Little River stand as silent sentinels to both land and cultural changes. Today, an extensive forest management plan is in place to maintain a healthy, productive bottomland hardwood forest to meet the habitat needs of a diversity of fish and wildlife species.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
Everywas created for a special purpose. Some were created to protect migratory birds, others to protect threatened or endangered species or unique habitats, while others fulfill another special purpose. Refuges are special places where wildlife comes first. All activities allowed on refuges must be evaluated to make sure each activity will not conflict with the reason the refuge was founded.
Little River National Wildlife Refuge was established for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds, for the conservation of wetlands, and for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources. Oklahoma House Joint Resolution #1046, which approved the establishment of the refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, further indicated that the purpose of the refuge was for the preservation of bottomland hardwood habitat for migratory waterfowl, particularly mallards and wood ducks.
February 10, 1987 – The refuge was established as the nation’s 438th refuge.
September 26, 2005 – The refuge began the first silvicultural treatment (a type of forest management technique) to begin the active restoration and management of the forest habitat on the refuge.
April 25, 2013 – The refuge completed construction of the Duck Roost Slough water well. The well provides active water management on the 142-acre Duck Roost Slough. The wetland impoundment provides essential wetland habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, and resident wetland-dependent wildlife species.