November 20, 2019

Partners Complete “Most Important Acquisition” Ever At Little River National Wildlife Refuge In Oklahoma

MCCURTAIN COUNTY, Okla. — Today, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the protection of 160 acres of forest and wetlands in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. Completely surrounded on all four sides by Little River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), the land is now protected from development and is officially part of the Refuge. The land will be available for activities including big and small game hunting, bird watching, and hiking. Because the property includes a major access road to the Refuge, users will be able to explore nearly 1,000 acres of Refuge lands that were previously inaccessible.

The Conservation Fund purchased the property in 2017 and has now transferred it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) thanks to funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that is specifically targeted for priority “recreational access” projects such as this one. The protection of this heavily forested wetland property will ensure that it is never sold and developed into an incompatible use within the Refuge boundary. Little River NWR manager, David Weaver, had identified this land as the “most important acquisition” for the Refuge. The Conservation Fund’s purchase of this important tract helped expedite the protection process and bought time for the USFWS to obtain the necessary funds to acquire the property for their long-term ownership.

“I appreciate The Conservation Fund assisting us with the acquisition of this important and valuable tract of land that will now be protected and managed for wildlife conservation,” said Amy Lueders, regional director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The tract provides high-quality habitat that supports an abundance of wildlife species. This acquisition also marks a great day for hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts as it greatly increases public access to a large part of the refuge that was unreachable, increasing opportunities for public outdoor recreation at Little River National Wildlife Refuge.”

“Acquiring this land and transferring it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was like filling in a missing puzzle piece,” said Julie Shackelford, Texas and Oklahoma programs director at The Conservation Fund. “Protecting wildlife habitat and improving visitor experiences at the Refuge seamlessly enhance our goals for economic development and environmental conservation across Oklahoma. We greatly appreciate the leadership of U.S. Senators Inhofe and Lankford and Representative Mullin in supporting public recreational access priorities.”

Funding for this project was made available by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is an innovative government funding source that utilizes offshore drilling revenue to support environmental projects at no burden to the taxpayer. The program has supported a wide variety of land conservation projects in Oklahoma and was allocated to the ongoing protection of Little River NWR. This conservation project was the USFWS’s #1 LWCF recreational access project in the country. The Oklahoma Congressional delegation representing the Little River NWR includes U.S. Senators James Inhofe and James Lankford and U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin.

The 15,000-acre Little River NWR protects one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests that can be found in Oklahoma. Most of Little River NWR is forested with bottomland plant species such as willow oak, sweetgum, cypress, white oak and holly, which thrive in the Refuge’s low, wet habitat. Higher ground areas support species such as loblolly pine, hickory and walnut. The forest is bisected by an intricate system of creeks, sloughs, and oxbow lakes that creates a dynamic wetland forest environment that are extremely rich in wildlife diversity and abundance.

Neotropical migrant songbirds fill the treetops of the Refuge in the springtime. Migratory waterfowl flock to the sloughs and oxbow lakes in the winter. Little River NWR is one of the few places in Oklahoma where the most secretive of birds, the Swainson’s Warbler, have been known to nest. The Swainson’s warbler breeds in southern forests with thick undergrowth, especially in canebrakes and floodplain forests in lowlands and rhododendron-mountain laurel in the Appalachians. The Refuge’s abundance of bottomland hardwood forests also provide habitat for squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, waterfowl, white-tailed deer and turkey, which make it a popular hunting and wildlife viewing destination in the southeast.

Established in 1987, Little River NWR is one of more than 565 national wildlife refuges throughout the United States managed by the USFWS. For centuries, the land was occupied by Caddoan tribes. In 1830, the Choctaw Indians arrived at the end of the Trail of Tears when thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi and relocated to southeast Oklahoma. By the mid-1900s, major timber companies arrived to log forests and eventually start loblolly pine plantations. Little River NWR was established to preserve the bottomland hardwood forests and act as an unharmed sanctuary for migratory birds.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including nearly 13,000 acres in Oklahoma.

About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with our Facebook page at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at and download photos from our Flickr page at

Val Keefer | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 |
Beth Ullenberg | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | 505-248-6638 |