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Located two miles north of Hardesty in the Oklahoma Panhandle's Texas County, the Optima National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) consists of 4,333 acres of grasslands and wooded bottomlands. The federal government established the refuge in 1975 to furnish a habitat for migratory birds on the planned Optima Lake. In 1966 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing a dam, and they impounded the lake in 1978. The expected lake water levels never occurred, leaving the refuge approximately one-half mile from the water. This situation forced wildlife officials to adjust the mission focus to protect the grassland environment as well as the migratory birds and local wildlife. Optima is one of more than five hundred National Wildlife Refuges in the nation. In 1907 Oklahoma's first NWR, for bison, was established in the Wichita Mountains.

Optima NWR hosts a number of Canadian geese and mallards in the winter and is used by songbirds (including scissor-tailed flycatchers, kingbirds, orioles, and woodpeckers) and raptors (with many species of kites, hawks, kestrels, and falcons) as either a stopover or summer residence. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides a checklist that details the species and frequency of the more than 250 birds that have been found within the preserve. Mammals protected include the white-tailed deer, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, and others common to the area. The grasslands consist of the shortgrasses blue grama and buffalograss and the sandsage-bluestem prairie tallgrass.

Optima visitors can hunt, under federal and state guidelines, as well as observe and photograph the wildlife. The NWR does not allow fishing on its grounds. The Oklahoma-operated Optima Wildlife Management Area, containing 3,400 acres north of the NWR, allows seasonal public hunting with a state license. The Corps of Engineers allows camping in areas at the lake.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Russell D. Butcher, America's National Wildlife Refuges: A Complete Guide (Lanham, Md.: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2003). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 9 March 2003. Oklahoma's Water Atlas (Norman: Oklahoma Water Resources Board, 1984).

Larry O'Dell

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