Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Last updated
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Snow geeze and ducks at Sacramento.jpg
Birds flying at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Location Glenn and Colusa Counties, California, United States
Nearest city Willows, California
Coordinates 39°25′48″N122°11′10″W / 39.429863°N 122.186156°W / 39.429863; -122.186156 Coordinates: 39°25′48″N122°11′10″W / 39.429863°N 122.186156°W / 39.429863; -122.186156
Area10,819 acres (43.78 km2)
Governing body U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Website Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex is part of the United States system of National Wildlife Refuges (NWR). [1] It is located in northern California, in the valley of the Sacramento River.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

National Wildlife Refuge type of federal conservation area in the United States

National Wildlife RefugeSystem is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife, and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the system has grown to over 562 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts encompassing more than 150,000,000 acres (607,028 km2).

California U.S. state in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.


The Sacramento NWR Complex was created in an attempt to resolve the conflict between the needs of migrating birds using the Pacific Flyway, and those of agriculture.

Bird migration movement of birds

Bird migration is the regular seasonal movement, often north and south along a flyway, between breeding and wintering grounds. Many species of bird migrate. Migration carries high costs in predation and mortality, including from hunting by humans, and is driven primarily by availability of food. It occurs mainly in the northern hemisphere, where birds are funneled on to specific routes by natural barriers such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Caribbean Sea.

Pacific Flyway a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in America, extending from Alaska to Patagonia.

The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south flyway for migratory birds in America, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. Every year, migratory birds travel some or all of this distance both in spring and in fall, following food sources, heading to breeding grounds, or travelling to overwintering sites.

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

The Sacramento NWR Complex headquarters and visitor center is located in the 10,819-acre Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge off of 99W, and features a wildlife exhibit, bookstore, and Discovery Room. Visitors can enjoy a six-mile auto tour with 3 viewing areas and two walking trails.

History and components

Before the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century, much of the Sacramento valley was taken up by seasonal wetlands and grasslands. By the beginning of the 20th century, much of this had been replaced by farmland, particularly for the growing of rice, and the rivers no longer create new wetlands because their flow is controlled by levees and irrigation schemes. Less than 10% of the original wetland area remains. Migrating birds have continued to use the area, and resting in the rice fields, consumed considerable quantities of the crop.

Wetland A land area that is permanently or seasonally saturated with water

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play a number of functions, including water purification, water storage, processing of carbon and other nutrients, stabilization of shorelines, and support of plants and animals. Wetlands are also considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal life. Whether any individual wetland performs these functions, and the degree to which it performs them, depends on characteristics of that wetland and the lands and waters near it. Methods for rapidly assessing these functions, wetland ecological health, and general wetland condition have been developed in many regions and have contributed to wetland conservation partly by raising public awareness of the functions and the ecosystem services some wetlands provide.

Grassland areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae)

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae); however, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example, there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones.

Rice cereal grain and seed of different Oryza and Zizania species

Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima. As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia. It is the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize.

Snow geese Snow geese flying at Sacramento wildlife refugee.jpg
Snow geese

In 1937, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, with the aid of the Civilian Conservation Corps, began the process of creating a refuge within dry, alkaline lands between the towns of Willows and Maxwell. This was the original Sacramento NWR. From the 1940s onward, additional refuges were created, so that the Sacramento NWR Complex now includes the following refuges, located between 80 and 145 kilometres (50 and 90 mi) north of the city of Sacramento:

United States Fish and Wildlife Service US federal government agency

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency of the US federal government within the US Department of the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats. The mission of the agency is "working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."

Civilian Conservation Corps public work relief program

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a voluntary public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men. Originally for young men ages 18–25, it was eventually expanded to ages 17–28. Robert Fechner was the first director of this agency, succeeded by James McEntee following Fechner's death. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men and to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000. Through the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a wage of $30 per month.

Willows, California City in California, United States

Willows is a city in and the county seat of Glenn County, California. The city is a home to regional government offices, including the California Highway Patrol, California Department of Motor Vehicles, the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the main offices of the Mendocino National Forest, which comprises about one million acres of Federal land located mostly in mountainous terrain west of Willows. The population was 6,166 at the 2010 census, down from 6,220 at the 2000 census.

Snow geese at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Snow geese at sacramento.jpg
Snow geese at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Glenn County, California County in California, United States

Glenn County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 28,122. The county seat is Willows. It is located in the Sacramento Valley, in the northern part of the California Central Valley.

Colusa County, California County in California, United States

Colusa County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 21,419. The county seat is Colusa. It is in the Central Valley of California, northwest of the state capital, Sacramento.

Delevan National Wildlife Refuge

The Delevan National Wildlife Refuge is one of six refuges in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex in the Sacramento Valley of central northern California.

The total area of the refuges is about 140 square kilometres (35,000 acres)s).


The water flows in the refuge have to be controlled artificially, and the vegetation has to be managed actively through irrigation and burning, to ensure that the wetlands remain productive, and provide adequate food and resting places for the birds. Between them, the refuges provide a range of habitats: seasonal marshes, uplands, permanent ponds, and riparian areas.

Marsh A wetland that is dominated by herbaceous rather than woody plant species

A marsh is a wetland that is dominated by herbaceous rather than woody plant species. Marshes can often be found at the edges of lakes and streams, where they form a transition between the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They are often dominated by grasses, rushes or reeds. If woody plants are present they tend to be low-growing shrubs. This form of vegetation is what differentiates marshes from other types of wetland such as swamps, which are dominated by trees, and mires, which are wetlands that have accumulated deposits of acidic peat.

The refuges are provided with facilities for visitors, though these have to be limited to avoid conflict with their primary purpose of conservation. The layout of the wetlands has been planned to allow visitors a good view of the birds while minimising the risk of disturbance to them. There is a visitor's center at the Sacramento NWR, and routes for car tours on the Sacramento and Colusa sites, though visitors are allowed to leave their cars only at selected sites. There are walking trails at both those sites and also at the Sacramento River site. Limited hunting is permitted on some of the sites.

Over 300 species of birds and mammals use the refuges, not all of them migratory. Among those most likely to be seen by visitors (depending on season) are:

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex boasts a diverse flora, even though large amounts of the historic wetland has been destroyed. Among the diverse wildflowers present is the yellow mariposa lily, Calochortus luteus . [2]

Line notes

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009
  2. C. Michael Hogan. 2009

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