The Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
President Theodore Roosevelt set aside the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in 1912, to preserve the land as a breeding area for native birds, and to conserve bison and elk herds like those that once roamed the Great Plains.
A century ago, North America was nearly devoid of wildlife, a victim of unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. The bison that were sheltered in the early days of the Refuge were some of perhaps several thousand left in the entire United States, after the massive slaughter of 60 million or more bison on the Great Plains in the late 1800’s nearly drove the species to extinction.
In ancient times, mastodon, giant bison, and three-toed horses roamed the area, and their fossil remains have been unearthed on the Refuge.
Today, the Refuge’s 19,131 acres support bison, elk, deer, mink, beaver, prairie dogs, and dozens of other mammal species. 24 reptile and amphibian species live on or visit the Refuge. Over 230 kinds of birds frequent the Refuge, including Bald eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, wood ducks and some unusual hybrids of eastern and western species that come together along the Niobrara.
The Refuge lies at a biological crossroads, where six ecosystems come together. Tallgrass prairie from the east grows in low wet areas near the river. Sandhills prairie still covers much of the sandy land south of the river, and mixed-grass prairie grows on the land to the north.
Eastern hardwood trees like bur oak and black walnut mix with ponderosa pines from the Rocky Mountains. Paper birch and hybrid aspen, remnants of the days when the northern boreal forest was found this far south, inhabit shaded north-facing slopes.
The Refuge includes 9 miles of the Niobrara River, all designated as part of the Niobrara National Scenic River area.
The Refuge is open throughout the year, and features a visitors center and a self-guided auto tour. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Refuge. For more information, visit the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge .