1941: Busy Year for Refuges


The Havasu Wilderness offers exemplary desert hiking.
Credit: USFWS

Prairie potholes in the refuges of North Dakota are pockets of freshwater marsh caused by glaciers. They are the most productive waterfowl habitat in North America.
Credit: Jim Ringelman

The floating marsh boardwalk at Horicon Refuge, WI, is a popular destination for visitors.
Credit: USFWS
Originally established to protect redhead ducks, Horicon Refuge now supports the largest nesting population of these ducks east of the Mississippi River. Thousands use the marsh each year.
Credit: USFWS

January 25, 2016 - In January and February of 1941 – just before the United States was plunged into World War II – 12 national wildlife refuges were established.  Refuges celebrating 75th anniversaries this year include Havasu and Imperial, AZ-CA; San Andres, NM; and Horicon, WI, as well as eight small refuges in North Dakota: Pretty Rock, Sunburst Lake, Springwater, White Lake, Tomahawk and Snyder Lake, Stoney Slough and Willow Lake.

The eight refuges in North Dakota were established in response to declining waterfowl populations, drought and the need to put people back to work after the Great Depression. Hundreds of landowners signed refuge easements. In return, the Works Progress and Civilian Conservation Corps programs employed local people on behalf of conservation construction. Today, 99 percent of the lands remain in private ownership. While they are closed to the public, they are critical for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, grassland-nesting birds and other wildlife.

Havasu National Wildlife Refuge includes 300 miles of shoreline from Needles, CA, to Lake Havasu City, AZ. Havasu Refuge protects desert upland and riparian habitat along the Colorado River for the endangered razorback sucker, Bell’s vireos, desert bighorn and hundreds of waterfowl. The refuge lies within the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory bird route along the western coast of the United States. Because of its importance to birds, the refuge is considered an Audubon Important Bird Area in Arizona. Elusive mountain lions roam, and thousands of bats emerge from the historic mines in the refuge’s wilderness area.

Nathan Adler won the "People's Choice" award in the 75th anniversary photo contest sponsored by Friends of Bill Williams River and Havasu National Wildlife Refuges.

Located in the Sonoran desert in Arizona and California, Imperial Refuge includes 15,000 acres of federally designated wilderness.
Credit: Molly McCarter

Havasu Refuge, nearby Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge and their Friends group hosted a 75th anniversary photo contest. Nathan Adler won the People’s Choice award with his photo titled “Three Beaks on the River.” Hunters and anglers are welcome and the Havasu Wilderness offers exemplary desert hiking – but bring lots of water if you are hiking in the summer.

Further south along the Arizona-California border Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, located in the Sonoran desert, was established to protect the backwaters and marsh areas created by the Imperial Dam along the lower Colorado River. Imperial also includes 15,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Small and large game may be hunted  in season on Imperial Refuge, which also offers fishing, boating and hiking trails.  The Painted Desert Trail gives a panoramic view of the Colorado River Valley and a rainbow of colors produced by the 30,000-year old volcanic ash formations. Wetland wildlife is most abundant in winter, when migrants like cinnamon teal and northern pintail use the refuge. During the summer, look for great egrets and muskrat.

San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, NM, serves as a natural laboratory for research on southwestern flora and fauna and Chihuahuan desert ecosystems. It is closed to the public for security reason since it is surrounded by the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range.

The Missile Range spurred the recovery of bighorn sheep after livestock grazing was eliminated, making more food available and decreasing human disturbance.  The refuge provides the largest landscape capable of supporting the bighorn in New Mexico. Its steep mountains are ideal for mountain lions that depend on stealth to hunt mule deer. The rock caves also shelter at least 13 species of bats.

In the Midwest, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, WI, protects migratory birds and waterfowl.  Located about 50 miles northwest of Milwaukee, Horicon Marsh is a lake bed that was scoured by a massive glacier 70,000 years ago. The Niagara River plunges over the same rock layer 500 miles to the east.

San Andres Refuge is the largest landscape capable of supporting bighorn sheep in New Mexico.
Credit: © C. Rodden, Environmental Division, White Sands Missile Range

Horicon Refuge is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States, recognized as a Wetland of International Importance as well as both a Global and State Important Bird Area. Thousands of redhead ducks use the marsh each year along with American white pelicans and sandhill cranes. A local Izaak Walton League chapter led the push for the refuge’s establishment.

The oldest known human artifact in Wisconsin was found on the refuge: an 11,200-year-old projectile point.  Europeans settled the area in the 1800s and named the marsh “horicon,” a Mohican word for pure, clean water.  The settlers built a dam that changed the marsh into the largest artificial lake in the world at that time.  After the dam was removed, the marsh was ditched, drained and farmed into the early 20th century.  

Today Horicon Refuge offers a hunt for people with disabilities as well as “learn to hunt” programs for adults and youth.  Fishing – including ice-fishing – is available year-round. There are several miles of established trails and roads, including off-trail exploration in the Bud Cook Hiking Area and a popular Egret Trail Floating Boardwalk.