- Decatur, AL
- Site Type:
- Forestry and Agriculture
- New Deal Agencies:
- Bureau of Biological Survey, Work Relief Programs, Conservation and Public Lands, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA)
- Quality of Information:
- Site Survival:
The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) covers 35,000 acres along the Tennessee River near Decatur, Alabama. The Wheeler Migratory Bird Refuge was established by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds in the eastern United States (the name was changed to the present NWR in 1940).
The refuge was made possible by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) construction of Wheeler dam (1933-1936) and the creation of Wheeler Lake. It became the first National Wildlife Refuge associated with a multi-purpose reservoir, which provides for navigation over the Muscle Shoals area, flood control, electricity production, and recreation. Like other federal wildlife refuges, it was administered by the US Biological Survey (Fish & Wildlife Service after 1940).
“TVA impounded shallow backwater areas of the reservoir to control the mosquito population. By pumping these areas dry in the spring and summer, the mosquito breeding habitat was eliminated. These impounded areas also produced natural waterfowl foods such as wild millet, smartweed, sedges, and other seed bearing grasses that attracted waterfowl when the area was re-flooded in the winter. This food source allows the Refuge to be the home of Alabama’s largest duck population as well as its only significant concentration of wintering Canada geese.” (Wikipedia)
“The refuge hosts 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles
and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, 295 species of birds, 38
species of freshwater mussels, and 26 species of freshwater snails. The
refuge also manages and protects habitats for 12 federally listed
endangered or threatened species….Several thousand acres of cropland are cultivated by local farmers on a share agreement. During harvest, a portion of the crop is left in the field as a food source for ducks, geese, and other wildlife. Each fall the refuge provides green browse for wintering geese by planting wheat.” (WNWR)
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) also had a hand in the development of the refuge. The WPA job card states: “Develop wildlife refuge in the Wheeler Lake Area in Morgan, Limestone, and Madison Counties, including clearing and posting refuge boundaries; improving patrol roads and boat landings; establishing and clearing fire lanes, providing upland game shelters, food patches, and cover planting, planting aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, and performing incidental and appurtenant work.” (WPA job card)
According to local source David Burleson, “I visited the Refuge office complex today and talked to the Refuge Manager. The only structure left from the 1941 work that the CCC did is the manager’s residence. It has been abandoned for a number of years and in poor condition. Good thing I got pictures, as it might be town down in the near future. The folks at the archives are trying to locate any old pictures showing work being done on the Refuge.” (Burleson)
- WPA Project No. 785-61-2-11, Application date 5-11-39, $11,204, Man-hours 39,624, Average employed 51, Total funds $16,268, US Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Biological Survey. NB: job cards only show approval of a project and need confirmation that all the indicated work was done.
- David Burleson, local resident who talked to the refuge manager and provided the photos.
Site originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere on September 27, 2018.
Additional contributions by David Burleson.
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