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Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge

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This account was written in 2007.

Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge was established 1993 to protect and enhance the bottomland hardwood forest of the Deep Fork River floodplain and their associated fish and wildlife resources. The refuge is located 5 miles South of Okmulgee, OK on Cedar Road. Call 918-756-0815 for more information.

The Refuge is located largely in the floodplain of the Deep Fork of the North Canadian River, commonly known as the Deep Fork River. The river that is nearly as deep as it is wide meanders across 34 river miles of the Refuge. Historically, the bottomland hardwood forest community of the Deep Fork River was a complex, diverse, and interrelated association of plants and animals, created and maintained by periodic, natural flooding. However, years of development and habitat alteration by humans have significantly modified the dynamic and pristine floodplain ecosystem. Today, Refuge lands are a mixture of regenerating bottomland forests, drained and natural wetlands, agricultural lands, and some upland hardwood forest prairie.

Aerial View of the Deep Fork RiverHistorically, the vast bottomland hardwood ecosystem of eastern Oklahoma encompassed an estimated 2.2 million acres. By the early 1980s, roughly 85 percent of these floodplain forests had been cleared, leaving approximately 328,700 acres, much of which is in small, isolated tracts that are of little value to wildlife. The Deep Fork River floodplain forest is part of a historically extensive system of bottomland hardwood forests supported by the rivers and streams that drain the Mississippi River watershed. The area of ecological concern is the entire bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and includes all of the bottomland hardwood forest habitats in eastern Oklahoma.

Periodic inundation results in a bottomland hardwood community in various stages of succession. Flooding is essential to the maintenance of many plant species native to bottomland forests. Temporarily flooded bottomland hardwood forests with oxbows, sloughs, marshes characterize the Deep Fork River floodplain, and small drainages scattered throughout. It contains some relatively mature stands of mixed oak and pecan, but much of the timber has been harvested and the area now supports regenerated, variable-age stands of oak, pecan, elm, hickory, river birch, willow and other hardwood tree species with understory shrubs, vines, forbs, and grasses. Most of the hardwoods are less than 50 years old.

Forested wetlands cover approximately 85 percent of the Refuge. Shrubby wetlands, emergent wetlands (cattails, sedges and other aquatics), open water, forested uplands, and abandoned and currently active agricultural fields make up the remaining 15 percent. The Deep Fork River floodplain is rich in biological diversity and of value to a variety of migrating and wintering waterfowl, especially mallards. It is an important breeding and wintering area for wood ducks. A wide variety of resident and migratory songbirds also are supported by the bottomland hardwood habitat along the Deep Fork River. Many game species such as white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, and cottontail and swamp rabbits inhabit the area. Furbearer populations, particularly those of raccoon, coyote, and beaver are among the highest in the State.

Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk trail hosts several interpretive panels which allow visitors to improve their knowledge of the bottomland hardwood forest and the wildlife which relies upon the forest for food, shelter, and nesting space. This area is open to the public from dawn to dusk.

A significant portion of the Refuge is open to the public for hiking, wildlife viewing, and wildlife photography. Most of the Refuge is accessible from State highways or County roads. You can park in one of the many Refuge parking lots to access the area of your choice. Some areas of the Refuge are closed to the public (see map). Access roads, parking lots, trails, and other points of interest are designated on the map. Below is a description of the ways that you can view the Refuge.

By car: The Refuge has many miles of County roads that run through the Refuge. Visitors can slowly drive these roads and try to catch a glimpse of wildlife.

By foot: If getting out and walking is your preference, the Refuge has many areas for your enjoyment. The Cussetah Bottoms elevated boardwalk is a great place to view wildlife in a bottomland hardwood forest.

The Coalton Bottoms trail once was a railroad used to haul coal out of the area. Today, this old railroad has been converted to a -mile trail that will take you along a beautiful wooded ridge and near the Deep Fork River. The Refuge has other trails that are routinely mowed. These mowed trails lead from the Refuge parking lots out into the Refuge.










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Copyright 2009 Tulsa Audubon Society
Last modified: September 21, 2009




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