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San Bernard
National Wildlife Refuge

Vines twine around  the state champion live oak tree found at San Bernard NWR.
County Road 306
Brazoria, TX   77422
E-mail: shane_kasson@fws.gov
Phone Number: 979-964-4011 (Complex Headquarters)
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This live oak tree found at San Bernard NWR is the largest recorded live oak in Texas.
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San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge
Gaze across the rippling marshes and ponds of San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and it's easy to imagine Texas as it was before settlement. Clouds of snow geese in winter or a warbler "fallout" in spring further convince any visitor that they have stepped back into early Texas. The refuge includes bottomland forest units scattered across the flood plains of the Brazos and San Bernard Rivers. These units provide an important sanctuary for migratory songbirds throughout the year.

The public is welcome at several locations across the Refuge, providing opportunities to encounter marsh, prairie and forest ecosystems. However, much of the refuge is closed to the public, leaving a vast landscape as wildlife sanctuary. Yet, a drive on the 9.4-mile auto tour or hike on one of the many hiking trails can take up a full day's worth of wildlife watching.

Getting There . . .
From Lake Jackson: Take FM 2004 southwest for seven miles. Take FM 2611 south 4 miles to FM 2918. Drive one mile south on FM 2918 to CR 306, then west on CR 306. The Complex Office is located on the San Bernard NWR. From the intersection of FM 2611 and FM 2918, continue on FM 2611 three miles to CR 316. The office is on the right.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Here, lesser snow geese both roost and feed. Snow geese flourish on the roots of Olney bulrush and other salt marsh plants. They rest in shallow waters with a clear view of their predators.

As many as 30 warbler species regain their strength here after an arduous migration across the Gulf. Shorebird flocks glide over marshes, feeding across the mud flats.

Summer's typical drought conditions may concentrate breeding waterbirds like white ibises, roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, wood storks, black-crowned night herons, and black-necked stilts. The elusive black, clapper, and king rails nest on the refuge. Dragonflies land at arm's length. Female alligators build nests and raise their young.

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The Karankawa Indians once thrived on this land's rich bounty of fish and wildlife. Long before the first European settlers, they paddled dugout canoes along the coast between Galveston and Matagorda Bays. In 1528, Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on this coast and lived with the Karankawas for six years. By 1825, the area bustled with sugar cane and cotton trade that was first under Spanish, then Mexican authority. More recently, ranchers grazed cattle on what eventually became the refuge.

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Management Activities
Water levels fluctuate naturally during summer drought and fall rains. Water management projects like the Wolfweed Wetland Complex allow managers to create shallow, freshwater ponds that are frequented by herons, egrets, ibis, shorebirds, and ducks.

Fire recycles grassland nutrients, controls exotic brush that invades mottled duck nesting habitat, and cultivates early succession plants favored by waterfowl. Managers carefully conduct prescribed fires to replace the historic cycle of wildfires.

Sometimes helping wildlife simply means allowing nature to run its course. Many of the bottomland units are maturing forests. Cleared areas are being reforested with seedling trees and young forests are maturing, increasing diversity and creating microhabitats.

Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to refuge habitats. Controlling invasive species through herbicide, fire and mechanical operations enables the refuge to restore native coastal prairie, bottomland forest and wetland habitats for wildlife.