San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

By: Rachel Jenkins

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, which under a federal migratory bird conservation act provides winter habitat for migratory waterfowl, by the late 1980s consisted of 24,454 acres of coastal prairies and salt marshes in southern Matagorda and Brazoria counties, offering habitat to over 400 species of wildlife, including some 250 bird species. The refuge is ten miles west of Freeport, bordered to the east by Farm Road 2918, to the south by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico, and for most of its border to the west by Cedar Lake Creek, which forms the border between Brazoria and Matagorda counties. Near the coast the creek flows into the refuge to form the Cedar Lakes. The refuge's other large named body of water is Cow Trap Lake. In the late 1980s San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge supported a small American alligator population. The upland prairies hosts wildlife including coyotes and bobcats, while the shore area hosts herons, ibis, sandpipers, avocets, and stilts. More uncommon marsh and water birds, including roseate spoonbills, whitefaced ibis, and yellow rails, make seasonal appearances. Several islands in the Cedar Lakes area support a colonial waterbird rookery used annually by over 8,000 nesting pairs of fifteen different species, including royal terns, laughing gulls, and Louisiana herons. The endangered eastern brown pelican is occasionally seen here also. San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, along with other such refuges on the Texas Gulf Coast, provides essential winter habitat for birds on the Central Flyway, one of four major migratory routes over the continental United States. During the winter months duck and geese populations reach peaks as high as 35,000 and 90,000, respectively. Numerous species of marine life, most notably several living reefs of colonial oysters, also inhabit the refuge's marshes and waters.

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, along with nearby Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge, is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, from the offices of Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge complex based at Angleton, which serves as headquarters for all three refuges. Established in 1968, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge's first 14,050 acres were purchased in 1969. The beach front across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was purchased later, from the D. K. and T. J. Poole estate. In the late 1980s refuge management maintained an appropriate habitat through water level control by dikes and vegetation control by controlled burns, limited cattle grazing, and some cultivation. Saltwater fishing, crabbing, and oystering, as well as waterfowl hunting were allowed in selected areas in season. In the late 1980s San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge was generally open to the public seven days a week for birdwatching and nature observation. Those interested in visiting or arranging tours are encouraged to contact the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge office in Angleton.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rachel Jenkins, “San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995