We’re celebrating some milestone anniversaries at some of our national wildlife refuges!
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona were both established in 1939 - 75 years ago this month! And Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama is celebrating its 50th birthday this month.
Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
Piedmont Refuge in central Georgia was originally established as a game demonstration area, attempting to show that timber management and wildlife could co-exist. Ira Gabrielson, chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey (predecessor to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), said if the Bureau could take a piece of completely worn out land, as Piedmont was at the time, and make it into a productive wildlife area, then he would know that any kind of land could be managed for wildlife. Today, the refuge is proof that good timber management practices can improve and maintain habitat for wildlife in the southern pine forests. “We actively manage the forest with prescribed fire and timber harvesting keeping the needs of wildlife in mind,” says assistant refuge manager Carolyn Johnson.
One of the many wildlife species that benefits from this type of habitat management is the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker whose population is increasing, from under 40 family groups a decade ago to 54 groups in 2013. These woodpeckers build cavities in large, living pine trees – at least 80 years old. As Johnson describes it, the red-cockaded woodpecker wants to “sit on his front porch and see his yard. Prescribed burning maintains an open understory and reduces the hardwood midstory.” If a cavity tree dies or the midstory growth becomes too thick, the woodpecker abandons the site. The woodpeckers live in family groups with each bird needing its own cavity for roosting. Artificial cavities are added to some trees to encourage young males to stay and start their own families.
The refuge trail system, including the 2.9 mile Red-cockaded Woodpecker Trail, offers excellent opportunities for bird watchers. Also, many nesting sites are observable from refuge access roads. Bachman’s sparrows can be seen in many red-cockaded sites during the nesting season. Refuge personnel can provide directions to the best bird-viewing sites throughout the year. The refuge is open the public for day use throughout the year, offering opportunities for hunting, fishing and environmental education.
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Kofa Refuge was established to protect desert bighorn sheep and other native wildlife following a 1936 campaign by Arizona Boy Scouts. For more than two years, some 10,000 Boy Scouts campaigned to “save the bighorns” with poster contests, talks, school assemblies and radio dramatizations. As a result of their efforts. Kofa Game Range (as it was originally called) was established and named for one of the area’s most notable mines, the King of Arizona gold mine.
More than 80 percent of Kofa Refuge became designated wilderness in 1990. The Castle Dome and Kofa Mountains rise abruptly from the plains on the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti reach up to 50 feet tall. Large mammals like the desert bighorn sheep and mule deer escape the desert heat in mountain caves. Bats roost in caves, crevices and mines. The speedy Sonoran pronghorn also lives on Kofa Refuge which participates in a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of the species.
Kofa Refuge offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as well as nature trails, primitive cabins for wilderness camping and a desert scavenger hunt for families. Kofa Refuge also has some of the best quail hunting in the country, as well as hunting for big and small game and upland birds.
Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
On January 27, 1964, Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge was established to serve as wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl, nesting and brood rearing habitat for wood ducks, and protection of alligators. Up to 200 broods of wood ducks are produced annually in the refuge’s artificial nest boxes and wintering waterfowl can exceed 10,000. Although the refuge is only 4,218 acres, it supports a wide variety of migratory and resident wildlife within its bottomland hardwood habitat.
Choctaw Refuge is a popular destination for local anglers and hunters. It is also an identified stop along Alabama’s Birding Trails.
Find a refuge near your backyard here!