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Plum Tree Island
National Wildlife Refuge

Poquoson, York Co., VA   
E-mail: cyrus_brame@fws.gov
Phone Number: 804-829-9020
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Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge
Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of four refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Refuge is situated on the southwestern corner of the Chesapeake Bay in the City of Poquoson and is strategically located almost midpoint on the Atlantic Flyway. It consists of 3,501 acres of saltmarsh, shrub-scrub and wooded habitats that provide a haven for waterfowl, marsh-birds, and shorebirds.

Previously owned by the US Department of Defense, the area was used as a bombing range. Much of the area remains dotted with unexploded ordnance. Due of the unexploded ordnance hazard, Plum Tree Island Refuge is closed to the public for all purposes except permitted waterfowl hunting on the 200 acre Cow Island portion of the Refuge. Cow Island is adjacent to the main tract of the Refuge and was never used as a bombing range.

Getting There . . .
The island is closed to the public and has no motor vehicle access.

Get Google map and directions to this refuge/WMD from a specified address:

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These driving directions are provided as a general guide only. No representation is made or warranty given as to their content, road conditions or route usability or expeditiousness. User assumes all risk of use.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Located on the Chesapeake Bay, the terrestrial and aquatic habitats of the Refuge are ideally suited for migratory birds and fish. Primarily salt marsh, the Refuge provides a suitable environment for numerous species of plants and wildlife. Elevations range from mudflats that are submerged at high tide to approximately five feet above mean sea level. The topography is relatively flat, except for a series of forested hummocks that are remnants of ancient dune lines. Refuge wetlands include an estimated 1,000 acres of low-lying, tidal salt marsh that flood twice daily. During monthly high tides and storms, an additional 1,500 acres may also flood.

Hundreds of species depend on healthy marsh/estuarine system to feed, rest, and reproduce. This is particularly true in and around the area of the Refuge. To date, approximately one hundred different bird species have been observed. Some species of special interest include northern harrier, black duck, sedge wren, sharp-tailed sparrow, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, black-necked stilts, and little blue heron. Mammals include white-tailed deer, raccoon, muskrat, red fox, among others. Endangered and threatened sea turtles (primarily loggerhead turtles) are known to utilize the waters surrounding the Refuge.

Fish and shellfish also benefit from the protected marsh. Striped bass, mullet, spot, and white perch are some of the fish found off the Refuge shores. Oyster, clams, and blue crab utilize the shallow waters and mudflats.

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Due to its isolation, the area that is now the Refuge was historically used for stock grazing, hunting, and fishing. It was acquired by the Federal Government for an Aviation Experimental Station in 1917. Air Force records indicate that the area was used as a gunnery and bombing practice range until the latter part of the 1950's. On May 22, 1972, the area was transferred to the Department of the Interior. Attempts to clear the military munitions from the property have only been partially successful; largely due to the nature of the fragile wetlands. Disruption of wetland soils cause the soils to become vulnerable to invasive species germination, thus making removal of subsurface ordinances biologically impractical and contrary to the Refuge's primary objectives.

In the past, NASA has also used the area as a free flight zone for testing model aircraft. It remains an emergency jettison zone for the Air Force.

In 2003 Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex began administering the Plum Tree National Wildlife Refuge. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach had previously managed it as an unstaffed satellite.

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Upon recent discovery of surface munitions along the shore and tidal areas of the southeastern portion of Plum Tree National Wildlife Refuge, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corp of Engineers, and numerous other Federal, State, and City organizations have determined the need for increased restrictions as a result of public safety concerns. A Danger Zone, prohibiting bottom disturbance, has been established from Bells Oyster Gut to Whalebone Island. This boundary extends from these areas 300 feet into the waters of Back River and Chesapeake Bay. Multiple agencies will police the zone to inform the public and enforce the restriction. For more information, visit www.nao.usace.army.mil/Regulatory/Harborsecurity/Plum_PN.htm

Note: The main tract of Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge was previously used as a bombing range. Public access has never been allowed in this area.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
To provide for wildlife protection and public safety, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service patrols the area and conducts biological studies.

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