Description - When the Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in 1519 he found a landscape very different from what we see today. The area was abundant with wildlife, and 3 million acres of coastal prairies and brushlands covered the landscape. Doves darkened the sky, deer grew fat on grasslands, and ducks filled the bays near the coast.
Cattle ranching in the 1800s and agriculture in the 1900s dramatically changed the landscape. Today, less than 5 percent of the original vegetation remains. The refuge uses various management techniques to lend a hand and help make up for these changes.
Irrigation and drainage have reduced the amount of water flowing into the refuge. Water is trapped in ponds, resacas (old oxbows of the Rio Grande), and the refuge's namesake lake, Laguna Atascosa, to hold freshwater between rains. Many birds are particular about the depths they feed in, so levels are adjusted throughout the year to benefit both ducks and wading birds. Moreover the refuge farms approximately 400 acres of milo, wheat, and peas, leaving the entire crop for wintering geese and sandhill cranes. Annual grasses between plantings provide food and shelter for small birds and mammals, which are food for larger mammals and hawks. The refuge farms without pesticides or herbicides. The refuge has additionally planted several old farm fields in native brush for ocelot and other brushland wildlife. It may take 20 to 40 years to grow dense brush similar to untouched stands. While working to re-establish brushland where it belongs, the refuge also maintains grasslands for those species that depend on them. Occasional prescribed burns increases the nutritional content of the grass and reduces invading brush.
- The south Texas landscape is a unique blending of temperate, subtropical, coastal, and desert habitats. Mexican plants and wildlife are at the northernmost edge of their range, while migrating waterfowl and sandhill cranes fly down for the mild winters. This combination makes Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge world famous for its birds, and home to a mix of wildlife found nowhere else.
Laguna Atascosa NWR is the largest protected area of natural habitat left in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, an oasis for wildlife with few alternatives. The refuge's 45,000 acres become more valuable with each acre lost to development--valuable to wildlife and valuable to those who enjoy wildlife in wildlands.
Laguna Atascosa NWR is managed to protect five endangered species, provide wintering/feeding habitat for migratory birds and preserve a biologically diverse ecosystem.
Provides wintering and feeding area for migratory waterfowl, and habitat for two species of endangered cats (Ocelot and Jaguarundi) very high biological diversity including five endangered species and over 400 species of birds.
Laguna Atascosa NWR is one of the bird watching "hot spots" in the United States with many species not found outside the lower Rio Grande Valley. Eighty percent of the North American population of redhead ducks winter in the area.
Recreation - The primary receational activity at the refuge is bird watching.
Climate - Rainfall in this region varies from 20 to 50 inches per year distributed fairly uniformly throughout the year. The growing season is usually more than 300 days, with high humidity and warm temperatures.
From Harlingen, go east on Highway 106 14 miles past Rio Hondo. Take a left at the T and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. From South Padre Island, take Highway 100 out of Port Isabel and exit right on Farm Road 510 at Laguna Vista. Continue 5.4 miles to the Cameron County Airport road. Take a right and continue approximately 7 miles to the visitor center. From Brownsville, go north on Paredes Line Road (1847) through Los Fresnos to Highway 106. Take a right and go approximately 10 miles to the T. Take a left and drive 3 miles to
the visitor center.