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Bear Lake
National Wildlife Refuge

322 North 4th St.
Montpelier, ID   83254 - 1019
E-mail: jeremy_jirak@fws.gov
Phone Number: 208-847-1757
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Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Bear Lake Refuge is located in southeast Idaho, about ten miles south of Montpelier. Surrounded by mountains, it lies in Bear Lake Valley at an elevation ranging from 5,925 feet on the marsh to 6,800 feet on the rocky slopes of Merkley Mountain. The refuge office is located in Montpelier.

The 19,000 acre refuge is comprised mainly of a bulrush marsh, open water, and flooded meadows of sedges, rushes, and grasses. Portions of the refuge include scattered grasslands and brush-covered slopes.

Bear Lake Refuge encompasses what is locally referred to as Dingle Swamp or Dingle Marsh. Along with Bear Lake proper, the marsh was once part of a larger prehistoric lake that filled the valley. As it drained and receded, Dingle Marsh was reduced from 25,000 acres to less than 17,000 before it became part of the refuge.

Getting There . . .
The office is in Montpelier, Idaho. The manager is stationed on the US Forest Service side of the National California-Oregon Trail Center located at 322 North 4th St.

The Refuge is located about 10 miles from Montpelier. To get to the Refuge, turn south off Route 89 onto a gravel road approximately half way between Montpelier and Ovid. This turnoff is marked. Continue south for about 5 miles until you reach the refuge boundary.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Surrounded by mountains, the refuge lies in the Bear Lake Valley at elevations ranging ranging from 5,925 feet on the marsh to 6,800 feet on the rocky slopes of Merkley Mountain.

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Artifacts found along creek channels and within the marsh tell us Shoshone Indians used Bear Lake Valley for grazing horses and hunting, and the Bannock Indians may have visited the valley. Buffalo bones and skulls have also been found in the marsh. According to historical sources, ranchers using Bunn Island in the early 1900s removed a "carload" of buffalo bones in order to proceed with hay cutting.

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    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
Because the refuge and surrounding area had always provided excellent goose nesting habitat, management originally emphasized Canada geese. Today, priorities have shifted to four other species whose populations have declined from historic levels: redhead and canvasback ducks, trumpeter swans, and white-faced ibis. Since 1900, human uses have impacted the quality of wildlife habitat on the refuge.

Muddy water caused by carp feeding and silt from the Bear River have reduced water quality and resulted in a decline in wildlife use on the refuge. To correct some of these problems, diked units have been constructed to stabilize water levels for duck nesting, reduce the amount of silt deposited by the Bear River, and exclude carp.

The refuge cuts hay to provide short cover that is flooded in the spring to create feeding sites and rearing areas for waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and ibis. The refuge also cultivates several fields around the edge of the marsh to provide food crops of barley and alfalfa for waterfowl and sandhill cranes. They are planted on a rotation schedule to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Up to 1,000 geese and 500 sandhill cranes use these crops during the spring, summer, and fall. These farming operations also help reduce off-refuge crop damage caused by migratory birds.

Control of non-native, invasive weeds is another key management operation. Weed pests have few natural controls and can quickly replace native Idaho plants. The refuge uses selected herbicides to keep these problem species under control.

The refuge also maintains abundant habitat in an undisturbed, natural state. These areas provide tall, dense vegetation for species that prefer seclusion over nesting. They also provide provide escape cover from predators, such as striped skunks, raccoons, red foxes, and mink.

Prescribed fire is used periodically in the more densely vegetated areas of the marsh. It creates open water ponds in the marsh after re-flooding and recycles nutrients which increase plant growth, resulting in improved habitat and markedly increased use by waterfowl.

Bulrush provides life needs for a diversity of migratory birds and small mammals. It affords shelter from the elements and cover for escape from predators. It provides concealment for nest sites and is used for nesting material. Various wildlife species eat the plant's seeds, stems, and roots. The tall stems serve as perches for certain birds to sing and establish their territories. In addition, the vastness of the bulrush marsh contributes to the seclusion needed by many species for successful nesting.

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