Wichita Mountains Named Best Wildlife Refuge

J.N. "Ding" Darling, Maine Coastal Islands, Vieques and Aransas in top five

The U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system protects some 150 million acres of land and water habitat from coast to coast, with at least one refuge in every state. We asked a panel of wildlife refuge experts, Patrick Comins (National Audubon Society), David Houghton (National Wildlife Refuge Association) and Collin O’Mara (National Wildlife Federation) to select 20 nominees from the country's 560 refuges. After four weeks of voting, the winners have been chosen and are as follows:

  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
    Md.

    With three major habitats – marsh, shallow water and forest – Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge harbors an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. As a designated Internationally Important Birding Area and a Wetland of International Importance, Blackwater provides a crucial sanctuary for migratory waterfowl along the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge has earned the nickname "Everglades of the North," and visitors can experience it via a paved Wildlife Drive, hiking trails, paddling trails and a bike route.
    Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
    Hawaii

    Although the nene – Hawaii’s endangered state bird, a.k.a. the Hawaiian goose – is emblematic to the Kaua’i refuge, its sheer cliffs and ocean waters are home to a number of fascinating creatures. It boasts large populations of nesting seabirds, plus Hawaiian monk seals and spinner dolphins. Its historic lighthouse punctuates the island’s rugged and dramatic north shore.
    Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

  • Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
    Del.

    Hugging the Delaware Atlantic coastline, it protects one of the largest remaining tidal salt marsh habitats in the region. Besides its saltwater marsh, it offers wildlife a variety of habitats including freshwater ponds and uplands. During the summer months, it is a mecca for wading birds such as herons, egrets and glossy ibises. Year-round, white-tailed deer, beavers, muskrat, red fox, river otters, woodchucks and opossums call it home.
    Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Seney National Wildlife Refuge
    Mich.

    One of many national wildlife refuge success stories, Seney restored land defiled by loggers and cultivators to become one the nation’s most important bird migration pit stops. Thousands of raptors, passerines and water birds pass through each year to rest and replenish on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before the long flight across Lake Superior. Its well-loved downy and hairy woodpeckers, however, spend the entire year here.
    Photo courtesy of Candice Massey / Seney Natural History Association

  • Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

    The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge protects the watershed and rare creatures along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Nine federally listed species find refuge here, including the Canada lynx, dwarf wedgemussel, Puritan tiger beetle, New England cottontail, American eel, northeastern bulrush and shortnose sturgeon. In addition to wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing are allowed in the refuge.
    Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
    Texas

    One of the national wildlife system’s most applaudable success stories, Aransas was the focal point for the restoration of Texas’ wintering whooping crane population, which had dwindled to 15 individuals in 1941. Today researchers count more than 300 in the vicinity. The refuge’s barrier islands host Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, reddish egrets, alligators and coyotes as well. Visitors take advantage of its trails, overlooks, fishing pier and 40-foot observation tower.
    Photo courtesy of kellington1

  • Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
    Puerto Rico

    Occupying an island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, the value of Vieques National Wildlife Refuge lies in the archaeological and historical as well as the ecological. It preserves the legacy of the native prehistoric Taino culture and of the sugar cane growing era. Four species of sea turtles can be found in the island’s surrounding waters along with the federally endangered Caribbean West Indian manatee.
    Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Maine Coastal Islands Nat. Wildlife Refuge
    Maine

    Five individual refuges make up this complex that spans the Atlantic coast of Maine. Its more than 8,000 acres range in habitat from unforested islands and coastal salt marsh to upland mature forests of spruce and fir. Atlantic puffins, roseate terns, greater black-backed gulls, great cormorant and other sea birds dwell here, some of them having made dramatic comebacks.
    Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge- Fla.

    Although most equate the large and lovely roseate spoonbill with “Ding” Darling, serious birders come to look for the elusive mangrove cuckoo. The 4-mile Wildlife Drive and its spur trails allow nature watchers to come quite close to the cuckoos, plus the refuge’s American alligators, Florida manatees and nearly 250 species of birds. Its recreation concession offers rentals, lessons and tours by kayak, tram, boat and paddleboard.
    Photo courtesy of Robert Blanchard

  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
    Okla.

    The two rugged granite rock mountain ranges of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge once protected Native Americans from detection by the U.S. Calvary. Since the early 1900s, bison and other endangered species have found refuge within the walls and canyons that enclose its natural plains habitat. Roughly 650 American bison call it home, along with Rocky Mountain elk and white-tailed deer. The refuge also maintains a herd of Texas longhorn cattle to preserve the cultural and historical legacy of the breed.
    Photo courtesy of jamespharaon

  1. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge - Okla.
  2. J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge- Fla.
  3. Maine Coastal Islands Nat. Wildlife Refuge - Maine
  4. Vieques National Wildlife Refuge - Puerto Rico
  5. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge - Texas
  6. Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
  7. Seney National Wildlife Refuge - Mich.
  8. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge - Del.
  9. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge - Hawaii
  10. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge - Md.

Other nominees for Best National Wildlife Refuge included Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, National Elk Refuge, Klamath Basin Refuge Complex, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Bosque del Apache Nat. Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain Arsenal Nat. Wildlife Refuge, Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

 

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Patrick Comins

Patrick Comins

David Houghton

David Houghton

Collin O'Mara

Collin O'Mara