Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges

Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife RefugeThe Klamath Basin is home to six National Wildlife Refuges:  Klamath Marsh, Upper Klamath, Bear Valley, Clear Lake, Lower Klamath, and Tule Lake. 

See how the refuges have changed over the years.

Wildlife Refuges and Wetlands

One hundred and fifty years ago early settlers in the Klamath Basin were met by a vast expanse of 350,000 acres of wetlands, shallow lakes and marshes; they fished a roaring, salmon rich river winding through hundreds of miles of western countryside, and were amazed by the spectacular migrations of geese, eagles, and other birds.  

Half a century ago, during the peak of fall migration, over 7 million waterfowl and 1000 overwintering bald eagles could be found in the Klamath Basin at one time. 

Home to invaluable wildlife species and remarkable territory, the basin wetlands drew the attention of conservationists from across the nation, including President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1908 President Roosevelt designated 81,000 acres of marsh and open water in Lower Klamath Lake as the first National Wildlife Refuge for waterfowl. Twenty years later, Tule Lake joined the Refuge System when Franklin Roosevelt authorized the protection of 37,000 acres in what was Tule Lake. 

Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron on Lower Klamath National Wildlife RefugeUnfortunately, their visionary actions to protect these fragile and important wetlands have been undermined by a century of mismanagement and abuse. The US Bureau of Water discharging from Reclamation’s massive Klamath Irrigation Project, initiated in 1905, paved the way for extensive agricultural developmentthat destroyed thousands of acres of wetland, and drained much of what was Lower Klamath and Tule Lakes. In recent decades, continued agricultural development, excessive water diversions, agricultural pollution, and drought have further damaged the remaining wetland habitat. 

Curious what the KBRA means for refuges? Check out this long list of potentially harmful impacts. 

Interested in learning more? Our Refuges in Peril allows you to explore the history of these vital wildlife area, and what can be done to preserve them.

More Refuge News:

  • Wondering what a Sandhill Crane sounds like? You can look up and listen to sounds of refuge birds here.
  • A beautiful summary fact sheet on the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, Lower Klamath and Tule Lake, illustrates their fantastic habitat and current struggles. 
  • Our letter to Congress asks for support of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges during the 2009 Administrative transition.  This noncontroversial letter calls for a more balanced vision that includes the needs of the refuges. 
  • Wildlife at risk as Bush-backed agreement links dam removal to harmful proposed settlement deal.
  • Interested in what the US Fish and Wildlife Service doing on the refuges?  Check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service weblinks:  Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
All photos by Brett Cole.