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The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.
Swan Lake Refuge is managed as "a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife". The purposes of the refuge are:
(1) to act as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife
(2) for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds
(3) to carry out the national migratory bird management program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began purchasing the 10,795 acres in 1937. Following purchase of the land, the Civilian Conservation Corps began work on the refuge, creating wetlands, constructing roads and buildings, and initiating the refuge farming program.
Since establishment of the refuge, the primary emphasis on waterfowl species has changed from ducks to the eastern prairie population of Canada geese. Canada geese were first observed on the refuge in the early 1940s, and numbers increased gradually to peak populations of 150,000 to 200,000 annually during the early 1970s. Today, Canada geese are commonly seen on the refuge but not in the large concentrations that they were in years past. Currently, the refuge is managed for migratory birds including waterfowl, geese, and shorebirds. It also provides natural habitat for many neo-tropical migrating species of birds. Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is designated as an Important Birding Area for Missouri.
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