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National Wildlife Refuge

4343 Highway 157
Union City, TN   38261
E-mail: reelfoot@fws.gov
Phone Number: 731-538-2481
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A flock of Mallards explode from one of the refuge's numerous moist soil impoundments. Wintering waterfowl populations may exceed 500,000 on this important migratory stop.
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Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge

Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 to manage the northern third of Reelfoot Lake as a refuge for migratory birds. Additional lands acquired in Southwestern Kentucky expanded the refuge to its current 10,428 acres. The proximity of Reelfoot Lake and the refuge to the Mississippi river has always made the area a major stopover and wintering ground for migratory waterfowl and bald eagles.

Getting There . . .
Refuge Headquarters are located approximately 15 miles southwest of Union City Tennessee. From Union City take highway 22 north approximately 15 miles, turn right on highway 157, refuge headquarters is located exactly 1 mile on left.

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Wildlife and Habitat

With the northern edge of the refuge only some three miles from the Mississippi River, this area has long been a major stop-over and wintering area for large concentrations of waterfowl within the Mississippi flyway. Wintering concentrations of mallards may exceed 400,000 birds, and during extreme winters, concentrations of Canada geese may exceed 100,000. With numerous other waterfowl species utilizing the refuge during the winter, spectacular concentrations of waterfowl can often be viewed at the refuges observation areas. The bountiful waterfowl resources, as well as the tremendous fisheries resources make the lake a haven for both nesting and wintering Bald eagles. As many as 200 eagles will spend the majority of their winter on and around Reelfoot Lake. In addition to the wintering concentrations, as many as seven pairs will nest and rear their young on the lake. Some 239 species of birds have been documented on the refuge, along with 52 species of mammals, and 75 species of reptiles and amphibians. Designated as an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, the refuge continues to play a significant role in providing for the needs of the birds migrating along the Mississippi river corridor.

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During the winter of 1811-12, a series of some 1,874 recorded tremors within the New Madrid fault dramatically altered the landscape over some 30-50,000 square miles and left Reelfoot Lake in its wake. This shaky beginning was followed by a series of conflicting issues, with competing interests involving timber, market hunters, and local hunting interest which eventually resulted in bloodshed when local vigilantes known as the night riders hung a lawyer representing the logging interest near what is still the community of Walnut Log. This prompted the State of Tennessee in 1908 to condemn and designate those lands on and around Reelfoot Lake for use by all the residents of Tennessee. Yet still the controversy continued in the early 1930's with failed attempts to drain Reelfoot Lake to benefit farming interests. The controversy over the water levels and water management were eventually quieted with the leasing of some 8000 acres on the northern end of the Lake to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1941 to be managed as a National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to the management of those lands transferred, the USFWS also took all responsibility for the manipulation and management of water levels within Reelfoot Lake.

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Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
Lake levels are currently managed under the terms of an interim water management plan developed as part of an evironmental assessment in 1989, and must consider private, commercial and agricultural interests around the lake as well as wildlife resources. The entire lake supports significant recreational opportunities including sport fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, and photography.

Approximately 800 acres of refuge lands are managed under cooperative farming agreements, providing winter food for the refuge's resident wildlife species as well as wintering waterfowl.

Some 290 acres of moist soil units are managed to provide habitat for a variety of neotropical migrants, as well as migrating shorebirds and wintering waterfowl.

More than 6000 acres of forested habitats, including cypress swamps and bottomland hardwoods are managed through timber stand improvements, reforestation, and water level management to benefit wildlife.

Aerial surveys are conducted during the winter months to monitor waterfowl and eagle populations as well as nesting activities of Bald Eagles.

Artificial nesting structures are maintained on the refuge for both eastern bluebirds and wood ducks. These structures are monitored annually, and provide nesting and roost sites for a variety of wildlife species.

The refuge conducts pre-season wood duck banding operations on the refuge to monitor trends in wood duck populations.