Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1994, is located along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain between the towns of Mandeville and Slidell, in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. This refuge is the indigenous homeland of the Acolopissa and Choctaw people, whose descendants are present in the region today. Refuge habitats include lake shoreline, freshwater and intermediate marsh; bald cypress-tupelo forest; bayous; hardwood forest hammocks; and long-leaf pine savannah. These habitats support freshwater and marine fish, shorebirds, wading birds, seventeen species of wintering migratory waterfowl, neotropical songbird migrants and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The refuge conserves a significant remnant of natural habitats that support wildlife within the rapidly urbanizing Lake Pontchartrain Basin. As one of the last remaining undeveloped, contiguous tracts of wildlife habitat in the region the refuge provides broad opportunities for public use. From fishing in the bayous, waterfowl hunting in the refuge’s marshes, paddling the bayous, to birding and wildlife photography - experiencing the refuge’s natural beauty connects us with our priceless natural heritage and replenishes the spirit.
Prior to refuge establishment in 1994, wetlands north of New Orleans were rapidly disappearing as urban expansion occurred. Several local organizations — including Northshore Coastal Watch, St. Tammany Sportsman’s League, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation — recognized the importance of these coastal habitats to the health and economy of the region and initiated a community effort that led to purchase of the land and the establishment of the refuge.
Other Facilities in this Complex
Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges Complex. Nine Southeast Louisiana Refuges are part of a rich ecological system which includes marshes, pine and bottomland hardwood forests, lakes, barrier islands, swamps and bayous. Ranging from the marshy delta at the mouth of the Mississippi, to the wetlands that help protect New Orleans from hurricanes and provide a nursery to the fisheries that support the region’s food economy, to the wild bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin; the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges preserve wildlife, habitat, and recreation opportunities representative of this unique part of the country.
All of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuges are open to public visits for nature-based recreational enjoyment. Priority public uses are hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation.
The refuge complex headquarters is located at 61389 Hwy 434, Lacombe, Louisiana 70445. This site also hosts the Bayou Lacombe Visitor Center and has walking trails that wind through an historic garden site and along Bayou Lacombe.