Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Fish and Wildlife Service, California.

“Tens of thousands of geese blackened the sky during seasonal migrations, their rhythmic honking punctuating the long V-shaped formations that swirled onto the marshes. So many foods to sustain the people: salmon, surf fish, clams, mud hens, elk and deer, acorns, Indian potatoes, huckleberries, hazel nuts and more, enough to host many tribes at the annual World Renewal Dances and to preserve and set aside for the lean winter months. Wiyot people lived in balance with this bounty, never taking more than needed and tending to the needs of the plants and animals. They wintered over in villages of split redwood plank houses built along the shores of Wigi (Humboldt Bay)…”  excerpted from a piece by Lynnika Butler at



The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1971, to conserve precious habitat for the great diversity of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and plants that occur along the Pacific Coast of northern California.

The refuge has several different units totaling almost 5,000 acres. These units consist of a mosaic of mudflats, estuarine eelgrass meadows, saltmarsh, brackish marsh, seasonally flooded freshwater wetlands, riparian wetlands, streams, coastal dunes, and forest, creating a unique complexity and interconnected landscape. These habitats support more than 450 species of plants, over 316 species of birds, and 40 species of mammals. The majority of birds use the refuge as a stopover where they rest and replenish energy reserves. Others spend winter here, and some use the refuge for breeding and nesting. The wetlands around Humboldt Bay are critical to over half a million shorebirds during spring migration and have been designated a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of Hemispheric Importance.




More than 50% of the Pacific brant goose (Black Brant) population refuels on the eelgrass meadows growing in the shallow parts of Humboldt Bay. The refuge also provides habitat for approximately 100 species of fish and marine invertebrates, many of which contribute to sport and commercial fisheries, including steelhead, coho and chinook salmon, and Dungeness crab. 

The Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes Units of the refuge have been designated a National Natural Landmark as they represent one of the most diverse and highest quality remnants of coastal dunes habitat in the Northern Pacific Border Biophysiographic Region.

The southern Humboldt Bay units of the refuge were previously a vast extension of saltmarsh and home of the Wiyot people. After the arrival of the European-American pioneers in the late 1800s, the land was dredged and rapidly converted into agricultural lands, destroying over 90% of the original saltmarsh. In 1971, the first portions of salt marsh and mudflat were acquired to protect coastal habitats for wildlife. In 1988, more land was acquired, creating the southern Humboldt Bay units.

Today, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge manages about 5,000 acres including the bay area, Ma-le’l and Lanphere Dunes. Despite the historical disturbance in Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, years of hard work and dedication have restored and created new types of habitats for wildlife, making this land functional for a wide variety of species.


First Native American occupation in the northwest California records from at least 8,000 years ago, that is subdivided into three time periods, the Borax Lake Pattern, the Willits Pattern, and the Gunther Pattern. There are approximately 45 formally recorded cultural resource sites in the Humboldt Bay NWR. An exact count is impossible to ascertain at this time because many of the recorded sites have not been field checked since the creation of the refuge so their location with respect to the boundary of the refuge is not well understood. Furthermore, only a small fraction of the refuge has been specifically inspected for cultural resources.


Nearby Activities


Take Exit 696 off Highway 101. If northbound turn left and go west over the overpass and take the first right, then follow the entrance road north and west ~1.3 miles to the Headquarters. If southbound turn right and then immediately left onto the entrance road and proceed ~1.3 miles north and west to the Headquarters.

Additional Information

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