Merced National Wildlife Refuge
The Merced National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 10,258 acres of wetlands, native grasslands, vernal pools, and riparian areas. It was established in 1951 under the Lea Act to attract wintering waterfowl from adjacent farmland where their foraging activities were causing crop damage. In the last few decades, changes in local agricultural practices and Refuge management activities have reduced these wildlife/crop issues.
 
The Refuge plays host to the largest wintering populations of lesser Sandhill cranes and Ross’ geese along the Pacific Flyway. Each autumn more than 20,000 cranes and 60,000 arctic-nesting geese terminate their annual migrations from Alaska and Canada to make the Refuge home for six months. Here they mingle with thousands of other visiting waterfowl, waterbirds, and shorebirds – making the Refuge a true winter phenomenon.
 
The Refuge also provides important breeding habitat for Swainson’s hawks, tri-colored blackbirds, marsh wrens, mallards, gadwall, cinnamon teal, and burrowing owls. Tri-colored blackbirds, a colonial-nesting songbird, breed in colonies of more than 25,000 pairs in robust herbaceous vegetation. Coyotes, ground squirrels, desert cottontail rabbits, beaver, and long-tailed weasels can also be seen year-round.
 
Vernal pools are unique and special wetlands found on the Merced NWR. These special pools form when natural shallow depressions underlaid with clay soils fill with winter rainwater. The pools come to life as they fill with water: fairy and tadpole shrimp emerge from cysts embedded in the soils the year before. The endangered tiger salamander, along with other amphibians, lay eggs and rear tadpoles. The vast number of aquatic invertebrates found in these pools provides a food source for wintering and migrating birds as they prepare for the long flight north to their breeding grounds.
 
As spring arrives and the water in the vernal pools evaporates, wildflowers such as goldfields, purple owl’s clover, and butter-and-eggs germinate in colorful patterns of thick rings or halos around the pool basins. Once the vernal pools have dried out, Downingia and Colusa grass, a rare California species, appear in the parched basins. This annual floral display of color led John Muir to describe the valley floor as the “floweriest part of the world” he had seen.  In addition to managing natural habitats, the Merced NWR contains approximately 300 acres of cultivated corn and winter wheat crops and more than 500 acres of irrigated pasture for wildlife. Not only do these managed agricultural areas provide important sources of carbohydrates for the tens of thousands of arctic-nesting geese and Sandhill cranes that make Merced County their winter home, they also help ensure that the birds will have adequate nutrient stores to make the long migration north to their breeding grounds. Local farmers, under agreements with the Refuge, oversee the ground preparation, seeding, and irrigation of these croplands. The Refuge incorporates a livestock grazing program that works in partnership with local ranchers and farmers. Cattle grazing is a management tool used by the Refuge to provide and maintain short stature grasslands and help control invasive weeds. Grazing also encourages native grasslands and the species that depend on them to thrive.

Visitor Activities:

  • Hunting
    • Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage. Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciate of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs.
    • As practiced on refuges, hunting does not pose a threat to wildlife populations, and in some instances is necessary for sound wildlife management. Hunting programs can promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on lands and waters in the Refuge System.
    • The hunting program is cooperatively administered by the California Department of Fish and Game. A daily permit is required to hunt at the Merced NWR. Information about seasons and bag limits, license and stamp requirements can be found in annual federal and state regulation guides.
  • Wildlife Viewing
    • The Merced NWR provides visitors with a variety of ways to observe and experience its diverse assortment of wildlife. An auto tour route and three nature trails provide optimal wildlife viewing opportunities year round.
  • Interpretation
    • Many interpretive amenities throughout the Refuge Complex help visitors understand the importance of Valley wildlife. Look for information kiosks, elevated viewing platforms, and interpretive panels along the auto tour routes and nature trails.
  • Environmental Education
    • By exploring the Complex, classes of all ages and grade levels can integrate the natural world into their classroom lessons. The San Luis NWR Visitor Center’s indoor classroom and outdoor amphitheater and wetlands are well suited to host quality curriculum-based field trips. Field trip programs are by appointment only. Field trips can also be conducted outdoors at the Merced NWR.
  • Photography
    • Whether an amateur photographer or professional, seeking mammals, birds, wildflowers, or natural landscapes, the Merced NWR provides endless opportunities for wildlife photography. Your vehicle can serve as an excellent photo blind while on the auto tour route.

Driving Directions:

  • From Los Banos: Travel east on Pacheco Blvd to Mercey Springs Road. Turn left on Mercey Springs Road. Continue on Mercey Springs Road for approximately 3 miles to Henry Miller Road. Turn right on Henry Miller Road and continue for approximately 7 miles to Turner Island Road (4-way stop). Turn left on Turner Island Road. After approximately 5.25 miles, turn right onto Sand Slough Road. Sand Slough Road will curve to the left and become Nickel Road. After approximately1 mile, the road makes a sharp right and becomes Sandy Mush Road. Continue on Sandy Mush Road for approximately 3.5 miles to the Refuge entrance on the right (south) side of the road.
  • From Highway 99: Take the Highway 152 west exit and travel westbound on Hwy 152 for approximately 15 miles. Take the Hwy 59 north exit toward Merced and travel north for approximately 7 miles to Sandy Mush Road. Turn left on Sandy Mush Road and travel westbound for approximately 8 miles to the Refuge entrance on the left (south) side of the road.
  • From Interstate 5: Take the Los Banos/Highway 152 east exit. Travel on Highway 152 eastbound into Los Banos. Turn left on Mercey Springs Road. Continue on Mercey Springs Road for approximately 3 miles to Henry Miller Road. Turn right on Henry Miller Road and continue for approximately 7 miles to Turner Island Road (4-way stop). Turn left on Turner Island Road. After approximately 5.25 miles, turn right onto Sand Slough Road. Sand Slough Road will curve to the left and become Nickel Road. After approximately1 mile, the road makes a sharp right and becomes Sandy Mush Road. Continue on Sandy Mush Road for approximately 3.5 miles to the Refuge entrance on the right (south) side of the road.

San Luis NWR Complex Headquarters and Visitor Center

(Complex includes the San Luis NWR, Merced NWR, San Joaquin River NWR, and Grasslands Wildlife Management Area.)

7376 S. Wolfsen Road (Do not use for mailing)
Los Banos, CA 93635
 
Mailing Address
San Luis NWR Complex
P.O. Box 2176
Los Banos, CA 93635
Phone: 209/826-3508
Fax: 209/826-1445


Contact Merced National Wildlife Refuge


7430 W. Sandy Mush Road
Merced, California  95340
Phone: 209-826-3508


 

Service Area

Services provided in:
  • Merced County, California


To request additions or corrections to this entry email the Administrator