Prior to European colonization, the lands making up the refuge and surrounding Colfax County were a source of food and an area of trade for several Native American nations, including the Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, and Ute.
Evidence of European settlement still exists. Remnants of the Santa Fe Trail are within two miles of the refuge boundary. Beginning in 1821, the 900-mile trail served as the main trading route for western settlers between Missouri and Santa Fe for more than 60 years.
Located in northeastern New Mexico at an elevation of 6050’, Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 3,699 acres of short-grass prairie, playa lakes, woodlots, wetlands, and crop fields. The refuge sits in an open basin surrounded by high mesas to the northeast and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west. Since 1965 this landscape has been managed for the benefit of wildlife and has provided feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds.
Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a total of 3,699 acres. Approximately 2,800 acres are owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are made up of 23 tracts of land purchased from willing landowners under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. An additional 907 acres are leased from the Vermejo Conservancy District.
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.
The purpose of Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge is to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge was established on August 24, 1965 by the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 712d) "...for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purposes for migratory birds."