Species in Focus

Cinnamon Teal

White-faced Ibis


Sage Grouse


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 (FWS) 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

The 500-mile Bear River flows in a great arc from Utah’s Uinta Mountains, through portions of Wyoming and Idaho, and back into Utah, where it broadens into a wetland delta that feeds into the Great Salt Lake. Along the way, the river passes through and sustains three national wildlife refuges: Cokeville Meadows in Wyoming, Bear Lake in Idaho, and Bear River in Utah.

These refuges and the watershed together provide vital wetland habitat for migratory birds–including large breeding populations of cinnamon teal, wading birds and shorebirds such as the white-faced ibis–as well as grasslands that support animals such as mule deer, elk and pronghorn.

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 (FWS) 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 FWS 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.

What NWRA is doing

NWRA has been working with FWS 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 it 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. The refuge’s marshes are used by many types of migratory waterfowl, including Canada goose, redhead, canvasback, mallard, gadwall, cinnamon teal and northern shoveler. 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.


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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