The Bear River Watershed is a working landscape, with vibrant recreational opportunities, active farming and ranching communities, and a high quality of life. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) is working with a variety of partners on a program that would allow current uses while protecting wildlife habitat and water resources into the future. In addition to federal agencies, private landowners, industrial water users and municipalities, partners in this collaboration include:

Beyond the Boundaries

Bear River Watershed

Help us Protect the Bear River Watershed

Bear River Education Center
Education center at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge | Steve Greenwood

As North America’s largest inland river, draining not into the ocean but emptying into the Great Salt Lake, Bear River brings water, wildlife habitat, economic stimulus and recreation opportunities to three states along its 500-mile route. The river draws from a 4.7 million-acre watershed and flows through both remote and populated communities. The Bear River Watershed spans many diverse habitats, from high mountain forests to the extensive marshes of the Bear River delta. Many threatened and at risk species depend on these habitats for survival including populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout and Northern leatherside chub in coldwater fisheries of the upper river. Greater sage-grouse, pronghorn antelope and mule deer inhabit rolling sagebrush steppe, and the Bear River delta is one of the most significant resting, staging, feeding, breeding and nesting areas for millions of migratory birds traveling on both the Pacific and Central flyways.

The new Bear River Watershed Conservation Area offers opportunities for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with private landowners in all three states by purchasing conservation easements from willing sellers to help sustain working landscapes while also achieving water quality, quantity, and wildlife habitat objectives.

Significance and Threats

The Bear River is the largest waterway in the arid Great Basin region, and thus plays a crucial role in supporting habitats and wildlife here. For example, the river sustains more than 41,000 acres of freshwater wetlands that provide refuge to thousands of migratory birds. The river is also vital to the people of the region, providing an irreplaceable source for irrigation to support crops and cattle, as well as outdoor recreation. Development and pollution pose major threats to this unique and irreplaceable resource.

A Partnership to Conserve Bear River

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is working with a wide variety of partners in the public and private sectors on a collaborative, watershed-wide conservation effort. This program complements and expands on other conservation efforts by enabling the Service to acquire conservation easements from willing sellers. The focus of this collaborative effort is on helping private landowners maintain their lands, while also ensuring clean and abundant supplies of water and healthy wildlife habitats.

On June 28, 2016 the National Wildlife Refuge Association  joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ferry family of Corinne, Utah, to celebrate the donation of a 30-acre conservation easement by the Ferry Ranch and Farm. This conservation easement is the first to be received by the Service in the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area. You can learn more by checking out our blog, or reading the full press release here.

What The Refuge Association is Doing

The Refuge Association has been working with the Service since 2009 on the Bear River watershed conservation initiative. Among our accomplishments:

  • Supporting planning and outreach efforts;
  • Expanding conservation education programs (download .pdf brochure);
  • Advocating for funding to support land and water acquisition.

About the Bear River Refuges

Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming

Cokeville Meadows wetland
A wetland at Cokeville Meadows | Keith Penner

Cokeville Meadows is located on a 20-mile stretch of the Bear River in western Wyoming.  The refuge protects a complex of wet meadows and upland sage steppe, two crucial habitats for wildlife. The wet meadows shelter waterfowl such as canvasback and cinnamon teal, American bittern and sandhill crane. The grassy steppe helps sustain species such as the sage grouse, elk and pronghorn. Just north of Cokeville, the Thomas Fork section of the river is an important coldwater fishery for Bonneville cutthroat trout and northern leatherside chub.

Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho

Located in Southeast Idaho, Bear Lake consists of 19,000 acres of open water, bulrush marsh and wet meadows of sedges, rushes and grasses. The refuge also includes grasslands and brush-covered slopes, and is encompassed by mountains. The lake is natural lake, but it has been flooded to create a large reservoir that is very popular with boaters and other recreational users. Many types of migratory waterfowl use the refuge’s marshes, including Canada geese, redhead, canvasback and mallard ducks, gadwall, cinnamon teal and northern shovelers. Bear Lake also shelters nesting birds such as the white-faced ibis, snowy egret, black-crowned night-heron, great blue heron, double-crested cormorant, California gull, Franklin’s gull, Caspian tern, Forster’s tern, black tern, western grebe and eared grebe.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge | Anne Truslow

This refuge, located in northern Utah at the edge of the Great Salt Lake, is a true desert oasis. Bear River is the largest tributary of the Great Salt Lake, and this wildlife haven encompasses the river delta as it flows into the lake. The refuge’s extensive marshlands provide rich resting, feeding and breeding habitat for migratory birds traveling both the Central and Pacific flyways. Bear River refuge and adjacent areas support the largest breeding populations of white-faced ibis, and as much as 60 percent of the continental breeding population of cinnamon teal.



For more information, click here to read our fact sheet.

What can you do to help?

By making a contribution to the National Wildlife Refuge Association you’ll enable our team to continue its work to protect and enhance the Bear River Watershed and other landscapes and wildlife across the country. Please consider making a donation today.

You can also join our Action Team and receive alerts on actions you can take on behalf of the refuge system and the wildlife that lives within it. Through the Action Network you can learn about measures pending in Congress and express your views directly to your congressperson. Please join today and help us stand up for the refuges!


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