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DEEP FORK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Created to conserve vital wetlands in the Deep Fork River's flood plain in Okmulgee County, the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge was established in June 1993 and dedicated in February 1995. It is the most recent Oklahoma addition to the national wildlife refuge system that Pres. Theodore Roosevelt initiated in 1903. The initial acreage totaled 4,681, and the sanctuary acquired 2,120 additional acres in 1994. The proposed future boundaries are to include 16,104 acres to be purchased from willing landowners with Land and Water Conservation funds and Migratory Bird Conservation funds. Nine thousand acres comprised the preserve by 2003.

In 1978 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had proposed a 36,200-acre refuge that would extend south of Stroud to west of Okmulgee. Area landowners objected, and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau lobbied the Oklahoma Legislature, which passed a bill toughening the requirements that allow the United States to acquire Oklahoma land for conservation and parks. This and other protests killed the wildlife refuge proposal in 1980. In 1991 it resurfaced with a federal bill that created the present Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge and also distributed needed funds to other national refuges and parks in the Sooner State.

The refuge's environment is primarily forested (hardwood) wetlands, with the remaining property composed of shrubby wetlands, emergent wetlands, water, forested uplands, and agricultural fields. Because the area is subject to flooding at least once a year, the ecosystem attracts migratory waterfowl, including a variety ducks. A leaflet distributed by the refuge lists 254 bird species, ranging from abundant to rare, that have been observed at the site. Wildlife watching, hunting, and fishing entice visitors to the federally managed lands. Squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, and duck hunting, along with controlled deer hunts, are allowed during specific seasons, which may not correspond to Oklahoma's mandated hunting seasons. Viewing of the diverse wildlife can be done from an automobile on the county roads that traverse the refuge or from trails and viewing sites such as the Cussetah Bottoms elevated boardwalk.

SEE ALSO: BIRDS, ENVIRONMENT, FISHING, HUNTING, MAMMALS, RECREATION AND ENTERTAINMENT, REPTILES.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 21 November 1978, 7 December 1978, 12 January 1980, 19 October 1991, and 16 February 1995. Okmulgee (Oklahoma) Daily Times, 17 February 1995.

Larry O'Dell

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