U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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National Wildlife Refuge

30 miles off shore of
San Francisco, CA   
E-mail: sfbaynwrc@fws.gov
Phone Number: 510-792-0222
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
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Farallon National Wildlife Refuge

The Farallon National Wildlife Refuge is a group of islands located 28 miles west of San Francisco. It sustains the largest sea bird breeding colony south of Alaska and contains 30 percent of California's nesting sea birds. Thirteen species, adding up to one-quarter of a million individuals, breed here, including the largest colonies of Brandts cormorant and western gull found anywhere.

The refuge contains more than 50 percent of the world's entire ashy-storm petrel population, a declining "species of management concern," whose breeding range is restricted to California. Thousands of endangered California brown pelican disperse from breeding sites further south to roost and feed on the refuge. Six seal or sea lion species breed or haul out to rest on the Farallon Islands.

The refuge and surrounding waters are critical habitat for the threatened Stellar's sea lion at the southernmost tip of their breeding range. Refuge management focuses on restoring the historical abundance of wildlife that existed prior to a century of human exploitation and disturbance.

Species are gradually recovering. Northern fur seals have recently returned to breed after an absence of over 100 years. Most of the refuge is a designated Wilderness Area.

Getting There . . .
The refuge consists of islands approximately 30 miles offshore of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean. It is closed to public access. However, there is an exhibit on Farallon Refuge wildlife at the San Francisco Bay Refuge Complex visitor center in Fremont, California.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The refuge supports 12 nesting seabird species including the world's largest breeding colonies of ashy storm-petrel, Brandt's cormorant, and western gull. It also contains important marine mammal pupping sites.

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The refuge was established in 1909, but active wildlife protection and management did not begin until the early 1970s when the Coast Guard automated its light station, removed personnel, and turned over housing facilities to the USFWS. Some wildlife species have recolonized the island and others are slowly recovering. After an absence of over 100 years, elephant seals returned to breed in the early 1970s. Northern fur seals, extirpated in the early 1800s returned once again to pup in the mid-l990s. Wildlife remain vulnerable to the impacts of pollution, oil spills, and gill net fisheries. The Service has cooperative agreements with Point Reyes Bird Observatory and the U.S. Coast Guard to facilitate protection and management of the refuge.

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The refuge is closed to the public.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
Population size and reproductive success of the following 11 nesting seabird species has been monitored annually since the early 1970s: ashy storm-petrel; double crested, Brandt's, and pelagic cormorant; western gull; black oystercatcher; common murre; pigeon guillemot; tufted puffin; rhinoceros and Cassin's auklet. Demography, population dynamics, and food habits for six of these species are also monitored annually.

The purpose is track trends of these species as they recover from depleted population sizes, determine how climate and oceanic parameters affect breeding, and to better understand the impact of current threats. Management programs focus on correcting the impacts of past human activities.

Concrete structures have been broken up and removed to open up nesting habitat for burrowing species. Invasive exotic plant species are removed each year through a combination of fall herbicide application and spring pulling. The purpose is to prevent non-native species from taking over native plants important for seabird nesting material, and to restore native ecosystems.

Two experimental gull exclosures have been constructed to reduce western gull predation on two declining seabird species: Cassin's auklets and ashy storm-petrels. Reproductive ecology and survival of the northern elephant seal has been monitored annually since the early 1970s.

Purposes are to track trends of the recolonization, determine mortality factors, and assess effects of habitat change (primarily beach erosion). Weekly counts of the 4 other pinniped species (California sea lion, Stellar's sea lion, harbor seal, and northern fur seal) that haul out to rest on the Farallon Refuge are also conducted.

The above monitoring and management takes place primarily on Southeast Farallon Island. The remaining islands are a Wilderness Area where human activity, including research, is severely limited.