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Established in 1970, in conjunction with the completion of the Kerr Reservoir and the development of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge is located on the western portion of the Kerr Reservoir at the junction of the Canadian and Arkansas rivers near Vian. Portions of the 20,800-acre sanctuary lie in three counties, Sequoyah, Muskogee, and Haskell. One of more than five hundred National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) in the nation, the land bears the name Sequoyah to honor the Cherokee alphabet inventor and prominent member of the Cherokee Nation. In 1903 U.S. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt had initiated the NWR system with a federal bird reservation on Pelican Island, Florida, and in 1907 Oklahoma's first refuge, for bison, was established at the Wichita Mountains.

With nearly half of the Sequoyah area covered with water, the environment attracts waterfowl and migratory birds. The varied water habitat includes different wetlands, the reservoir, oxbow lakes, and river environments. A haven for bird watchers as well as seasonal hunters, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the refuge issued a bird checklist that contained 256 species that had been seen more than twice on the grounds. These included migrating mallards, the largest concentration of snow geese in Oklahoma, and bald eagles. In the 1980s the site instituted an eagle release program, in which eggs were brought from Florida, incubated and hatched, and the birds released in the refuge. The wildflower fields also attract monarch butterflies as they annually move south toward central Mexico.

Located at the foothills of the Ozarks, the refuge's land habitat includes grasslands, bottom lands, river bluffs, and hardwood forests. These support mammals, such as the bobcat, muskrats, and rabbits, as well as various reptiles and amphibians. The Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge manages a cooperative farming program that raises wheat, corn, soybeans, and other crops on more than three thousand acres. A portion is purposely left unharvested in order to attract wildlife. Visitors travel to the area to hike on the various trails and to observe and photograph the scenery and animals. There are also automobile tours and boat ramps. Fishing is popular, with various bass, crappie, and catfish as the main prey. Duck, geese, and other small game hunting areas are also open during the appropriate seasons. Deer hunting requires a special permit at specified dates.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 5 April 1988. William Palmer, Audubon Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: South Central (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000). Sequoyah County Times (Sallisaw, Oklahoma), 11 June 1970.

Larry O'Dell

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