Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge An Oasis in the Desert

The Bear River is a landlocked western river that flows through arid plains and valleys in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho before emptying into the Great Salt Lake. It’s a vital resource in the region, and encompasses parts of both the Pacific and Central Flyways, meaning it is an incredibly important crossroads for migrating birds.

At the river’s delta lies Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a 74,000-acre oasis for more than 250 species of birds, including the bald eagle and tundra swan.

Millions of birds use the refuge to rest, feed, and nest, but that wasn’t always the case

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was established in 1928 as a response to an ecological disaster that occurred due to heavy irrigation and the draining of wetlands, resulting in a massive die-off. Once established as a refuge, wetlands were restored through dikes and canals, which are still used to control water levels to this day.

All that work was undone in 1983 when the lake flooded, inundating the wetlands with salt water and damaging refuge structures. It took 6 years for the waters to recede, allowing work to begin on rebuilding water control systems and restoring the habitat.

Eventually, 40,000 acres were restored, and the birds returned once again. And this time, humans from the increasingly urban I-15 corridor came to take advantage of one of the best birdwatching sites in the continental United States.

Bear River MBR is an excellent place to see wildlife, on both the half mile trail and the 12-mile auto tour. The James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center has interactive exhibits, educational programs, and public events, and is easily accessible from Salt Lake City, Ogden City and the surrounding communities.

NWRA's urban program director, USFWS staff & community partner

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