Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

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Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Rocky Flats NWR.JPG
Map showing the location of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Map showing the location of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Location Jefferson County, Colorado, United States
Nearest city Westminster
Coordinates 39°53′24″N 105°13′13″W / 39.89000°N 105.22028°W / 39.89000; -105.22028Coordinates: 39°53′24″N 105°13′13″W / 39.89000°N 105.22028°W / 39.89000; -105.22028
Area 3,953 acres (1,600 ha)
Established 2007[1]
Governing body U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Website Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the United States located approximately 16 miles (26 km) northwest of Denver, Colorado. The site was previously the Rocky Flats Plant's security buffer zone and is not currently open to the general public for access.


Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is an expanse of grasslands, shrublands and wetlands, including rare xeric tallgrass prairie, where natural processes support a broad range of native wildlife. Working with others, the refuge conserves the unique biotic communities and sustains wildlife populations at the interface of mountains and prairies on Colorado's Front Range.


This refuge is home to animals such as black bear, coyote, two species of owl, elk, mule deer, northern flicker, white pelican, black-tailed prairie dog, and porcupine.


Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge covers over 5,000 acres, including these open plains.

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Front Range of Colorado at the intersection of Jefferson, Boulder, and Broomfield counties. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Refuge.

Native Americans occupied the land intermittently prior to the 1800s and limited artifacts have been located from this era. Starting in 1868, the Scott family established a homestead here and the land was used to raise cattle. Later, the Lindsay family raised cattle and built a house and barn in the 1940s. In 1951, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission acquired 2,519 acres, which included the Lindsay property, for the Rocky Flats Plant to produce nuclear and nonnuclear weapons including plutonium fission primaries for nuclear weapons. An additional 4,027 acres were acquired in 1974 for plant expansion. Plant facilities are now gone. The Rocky Flats Plant closed in the early 1990s and was subject to a $7 billion Superfund investigation and environmental cleanup effort.

This 6,500-acre Rocky Flats Site was one of 13 nuclear weapons production facilities in the United States during the Cold War and was managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The plant operated from 1952 to 1994 with manufacturing activities taking place in the center portion of the site with a large buffer zone around the area. In 1989, after the FBI-led raid for suspicion of environmental crimes at the plant, nuclear production work stopped to address environmental and safety concerns. Although work resumed in 1990, the RF mission was terminated when President George H. W. Bush canceled the W-88 Trident Warhead program in 1992. Nuclear and nonnuclear production stopped in 1993, and in 1994 the last shipment of defense-related materials was sent off-site.

The facility’s mission changed from production to cleanup and closure and was renamed the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. The site was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List (Superfund List) in 1989. Through the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001, the site was established as a national wildlife refuge while cleanup of the site was underway. With oversight from the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), the DOE completed the $7 billion cleanup in 2005. The DOE maintains 1,300 acres as part of their legacy management for long-term care and maintenance, and to ensure the cleanup is functioning as designed. These lands are not part of the Refuge.

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge consists of lands that were the former Rocky Flats Plant security buffer zone. The Superfund investigation and cleanup effort found Refuge lands (then-called the Peripheral Operable Unit) would be suitable for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure - that is, any use. Under the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001 (Pub.L. 107–107, 115 Stat. 1379, enacted December 28, 2001), most of the 6,240-acre (25.3 km2) Rocky Flats site became a refuge, provided that certification from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is obtained and which asserts that the cleanup and closure have been completed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service anticipates opening the Refuge to the public in 2018.

The Refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network of lands set aside and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically for wildlife. The Refuge System is a living heritage, conserving wildlife and habitat for people today and for generations to come.


  • Restoring and preserving native ecosystems.
  • Providing habitat for, and population management of native plants and migratory and resident wildlife.
  • Conserving threatened and endangered species.
  • Providing opportunities for compatible scientific research


  • Wildlife and habitat management: Provide a riparian community representative of historic flora and fauna in a high valley of the southern Rocky Mountains to provide habitat for migratory birds, mammals, and river-dependent species
  • Public use, education and interpretation: Provide visitors and students high quality recreational, educational, and interpretive opportunities and foster an understanding and appreciation of the Refuge's xeric tallgrass prairie, upland shrub and wetland habitats; native wildlife; and the history of the site.
  • Safety: Conduct operations and manage public access in accordance with the final Rocky Flats' cleanup decision documents to ensure the safety of the Refuge visitors, staff and neighbors.
  • Effective and open communication: Conduct communication outreach efforts to raise public awareness about the Refuge programs.
  • Working with others: Foster beneficial partnerships with individuals, government agencies, and NGOs to promote resource conservation.
  • Refuge operations: Based on available funds, provide facilities and staff to fulfill the Refuge vision and purpose


The Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) emphasizes wildlife and habitat conservation, and a moderate level of wildlife-dependent public use.

On April 17, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals terminated objections against a 2011 land exchange affecting the refuge. This exchange added over 600 acres of land to refuge and acquired over 1,200 acres of subsurface mineral rights beneath the refuge in exchange for a 300-foot transportation corridor along the refuge's eastern boundary.[2]

In September 2015, the wildlife refuge opened for two guided hikes.[3]


During a $7 billion Superfund cleanup, millions of environmental data points (soil, air, surface water, ground water, sediment) were collected from thousands of sampling locations. The results of this environmental investigation are presented in a CERCLA report. [4] Because the environmental investigation found levels of contamination in the Peripheral Operable Unit (now Refuge lands) were below levels of regulatory concern, the Refuge did not require remedial action. In May 2007, the POU was deleted from the Superfund National Priorities List. The lands comprising the POU were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for establishment as the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, pursuant to an Act of Congress.

Despite the investigation and cleanup efforts, some question the adequacy of cleanup efforts and agency studies. In 2017, local activists sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On September 29, 2017, the U.S. District Court dismissed this lawsuit. The Court explained the activist groups "merely rehashed old arguments," and did not provide new evidence or legal authority as support for the lawsuit. [5] The Court awarded costs to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.


  1. ^ "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establishes Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge". U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service. July 12, 2007. Retrieved August 13, 2012. 
  2. ^ ""Jefferson Parkway gets legal victory in 10th Circuit Court of Appeals"". Denver Post. April 17, 2015. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ RI/FS Report,
  5. ^ See Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motions for Reconsideration and Leave to Amend And Granting Defendants Motion to Dismiss, Rocky Mtn. Peace and Justice Ctr. v U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (D. Colo. 2017).

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