The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, along with the neighboring Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge, protects scarce aquatic and riparian habitats. The San Bernardino Refuge stretches across the bottom of a wide valley and includes a portion of the headwaters of the Yaqui River, which drains western Chihuahua and eastern Sonora, Mexico. This wetlands habitat has fostered a wide diversity of mammal and avian species as well as rare Arizona native fish.
For hundreds of years the precious water resources have also attracted humans to this valley. Jesuit priests passed through in the early eighteenth century, to be followed by a Spanish presidio, which attempted to defend the far northern frontier during the period from 1776-1779. This garrison was driven out by hostile Apaches.
In May 1822, lgnacio Perez purchased the land grant of San Bernardino. The 73,000-acre ranch covered the southeast corner of what is now Arizona and extended far down into Mexico.
In the 1880s this San Bernardino grant-land was acquired by John H. Slaughter for his San Bernardino Ranch. Today the ranch house and outbuildings have been opened to the public as a museum. Ranching and farming continued on the land until 1979. A few years later, the ranchland was acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to protect the water resources and provide habitat for endangered native fishes such as the Yaqui chub, Yaqui catfish and the Yaqui minnow.
Artesian wells and seeps create small areas of riparian forest, marshland, scrub and aquatic habitat. These various habitats attract many birds including ring neck duck, Mexican duck, sandhill crane, hummingbird and Gila woodpecker. Many species of raptors can also be seen here, including gray hawk, kestrel, golden eagle, zone-tailed hawk and peregrine falcon.
Many mammals inhabit the refuge. There are mule deer, whitetail deer, javelina, raccoon, coyote, bobcat, badger, jackrabbit and cottontail rabbit. Though seldom seen, mountain lions generally live in areas of Arizona where deer are plentiful.
San Bernardino Refuge is open to bird watching, hiking and photography, as well as dove, quail and cottontail rabbit hunting in season. Leslie Canyon NWR is closed to hunting and both refuges are closed to fishing.
Nearby attraction: Slaughter Ranch Museum