Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge was established March 26, 1930, originally encompassing the majority of the salt flats. The refuge was expanded through the construction of the Great Salt Plains Reservoir by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and through the purchase of lands with funds from the federal Duck Stamp. The refuge consists of 32,197 acres within Alfalfa County in north-central Oklahoma. Landscapes include salt flats, mixed-grass prairie, herbaceous wetlands, forested areas, rolling sand hills, and open water.
The salt flats have always held an important role to wildlife and people. When these lands were designated as the Cherokee Outlet, lands granted to the Cherokee Nation by treaty, the area of the salt flats were withheld by the U.S. Government for use by other tribes. This was due to the attraction of wildlife to the salt flats and dependent hunting by tribes and use of salt from the flats for preservation of meats.
The refuge has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy, and a site of International Importance within the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The refuge was originally established “...as a refuge and breeding ground for birds...” - Executive Order 5314
The following are additional purposes that apply to Salt Plains NWR:
“...for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” - 16 U.S.C. § 715d (Migratory Bird Conservation Act)
“...shall be administered by him [Secretary of the Interior] directly or in accordance with cooperative agreements and in accordance with such rules and regulations for the conservation, maintenance, and management of wildlife, resources thereof, and its habitat thereon...”- 16 U.S.C. § 664 (Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act)
“...for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources...” (16 U.S.C. § 742f(a)(4) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)
“...for the benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such acceptance may be subject to the terms of any restrictive or affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude...” 16 U.S.C.§742f(b)(1) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)
Additionally, the refuge is designated as critical habitat for the whooping crane (43 FR 20928, May 15, 1978)