The Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area was acquired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the late 1940s and developed a wintering goose population in excess of 50,000 birds by 1964. Since then, controlled harvest through the quota system and continued provision of quality winter sanctuary and food have contributed to a total southern Illinois winter population of nearly 500,000 Canada geese. The Union County segment of this population varies from 50,000 to 100,000 each winter.
Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area encompasses 6,202 acres in the Lower Mississippi River bottomlands division of Illinois. Numerous shallow sloughs and other water areas totaling approximately 1,100 acres are scattered throughout the area. More prominent water areas include Grassy Lake (350 acres) and Lyerla Lake (275 acres).
Of the 5,350-acre land area, approximately 2,400 acres are cultivated. The remaining acreage is timber, brush or permanent grass cover. By far the most intensive activity on the area is farming. Each year a variety of hard grain and green forage crops are planted and left standing to provide food for wintering geese. More than 2,400 acres of corn, sunflower, wheat, clover and other crops are established for this purpose.
Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area is a haven for many diverse forms of wildlife. The most prominent throughout five months of the year are the phenomenal flocks of wintering Canada geese and other waterfowl. White-tailed deer, bald and golden eagles, and many other interesting types of wildlife are commonly observed by visitors to the area.
Public use of interior gravel roads is restricted except when permission is granted for special circumstances, such as student research and site tours.
Public use in the refuge is limited to sightseeing and wildlife photography. No hunting is allowed. In order to avoid disturbance of waterfowl on the area, no day use or overnight facilities have been developed.
Throughout the fall and winter months, thousands of Canada geese are concentrated along the Refuge Drive. Few places in Illinois exist where so many wild geese can be closely observed and photographed in their natural habitat.