- Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Infobox_protected_area | name = Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
iucn_category = IV
locator_x = 194
locator_y = 120
location = Morgan, Limestone, and Madison counties,
lat_degrees = 34
lat_minutes = 33
lat_seconds = 27.6444
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 86
long_minutes = 57
long_seconds = 5.7384
long_direction = W
area = 35,000 acres (142 km²)
established = 1938
visitation_num = 700,000
visitation_year = 2003
governing_body = U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a 35,000 acre (142 km²)
National Wildlife Refugelocated along the Tennessee Rivernear Decatur, Alabama. Named after Major General Joseph Wheeler, it was established to provide a habitat for wintering and migrating birds in the eastern United States.
Of the 35,000 acres (142 km²) of the refuge, about 4,085 acres (16.5 km²) are located within
Redstone Arsenal. Approximately 1,500 acres (6 km²) of the Redstone Arsenal land is administered by the Marshall Space Flight Center. The facility has a sixteen person staff with a $1,694,000 annual budget.
Wheeler NWR is charged with the administration of four other National Wildlife Refuges including Fern Cave, Key Cave, Sauta Cave, and the
Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge. Until recently, Wheeler NWR also administered the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge(now administered by the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge).
In 1934, the
Tennessee Valley Authoritybegan purchasing land as a bed for and buffer strip for Wheeler Reservoir. By 1936, the Tennessee River was impounded for flood control with the nearby Wheeler Dam providing hydroelectricpower.
In 1938, the Refuge was established by Executive Order of President
Franklin D. Rooseveltand became the first National Wildlife Refuge to be overlain on a multi-purpose reservoir. TVA impounded shallow backwater areas of the reservoir to control the mosquitopopulation. By pumping these areas dry in the spring and summer, the mosquito breeding habitat was eliminated.
These impounded areas also produced natural waterfowl foods such as wild millet,
smartweed, sedges, and other seed bearing grasses that attracted waterfowl when the area was re-flooded in the winter. This food source allows the Refuge to be the home of Alabama's largest duck population as well as its only significant concentration of wintering Canada geese.
In 1941, for national security reasons, about 4,085 acres (16.5 km²) were included inside the
Redstone Arsenalboundary. Currently, about 1,500 acres (6 km²) of the 4,085 acres (16.5 km²) is administered by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Located along the Tennessee River, the refuge provides a mix of bottomland hardwoods, mixed hardwood and pine uplands, shallow water
embayments, and agricultural fields. Of the Refuge's 35,000 acres (142 km²), there are 19,000 acres (77 km²) of land and 16,000 acres (65 km²) of water. The area consists of some 10,000 acres (40 km²) of forested wetlands and upland hardwoods, with main species consisting of red and white oaks, hickories, poplar, ash, and tupelo gum; 3,000 acres (12 km²) of pine plantations, much of this subjected to sanitation cuts in the mid-1990's due to Ips beetleand pine beetleinfestations; and 4,000 to 5,000 acres (16 to 20 km²) of farmland, with the remainder including open shelves, rocket test ranges, and other areas. This mix of habitat provides for a wealth of wildlife diversity on the refuge.
Wildlife and protected species
Wheeler NWR has supported up to 60,000
geeseand 100,000 ducks, although recently these levels have declined to approximately 30,000 geese and 60,000 ducks. Since 1990, winter goose populations have dropped significantly due to many different factors; below 15,000 from 1990-1995 and about 2,500-5,500 in the last few years. Snow geese are now the most prominent component of the winter goose population, peaking near 1,500-3,200 in recent years.
In addition to migratory birds, the refuge hosts 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, and 288 different species of songbirds. Some common mammals include
squirrels, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, quail, and deer. Approximately ten endangered species which live on the refuge.
Wheeler NWR offers five hiking trails ranging in length from convert|200|yd|m to four miles (6 km), providing opportunities to view wildlife in a wide variety of habitats. Additionally, six improved boat launch areas provide access to the Tennessee River.
Hunting and fishing
Fishing is very popular at Wheeler NWR with an estimated 200,000 annual visitors. The Tennessee River provides excellent fishing opportunities for bass, sunfish,
crappie, sauger, and catfish. Public hunting is permitted on approximately 18,000 acres (73 km²).
The main visitor center provides an overlook of a waterfowl impoundment for birdwatching as well as the opportunity to see a
red-tailed hawk. Several other spotting scope stations are setup throughout the refuge. Additionally, the "Wildlife Observation Tower" is located on the north side of the Refuge and provides an elevated view of the Beaverdam peninsula, an area of the Refuge managed primarily for Canada geese.
*March: Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest.
*May: Youth Fishing Rodeo, FAWN Festival.
*Summer: Wheeler Day Camps.
*August: United Way’s Day of Caring Fishing Rodeo.
*October: Wet and Wild Festival, Southern Wildlife Festival.
List of National Wildlife Refuges
* [http://www.fws.gov/Wheeler/ Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge homepage]
* [http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=43660 FWS profile of Wheeler NWR]
* [http://www.recreation.gov/recAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&recAreaId=1670&agencyCode=127 Recreation.gov overview]
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