The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge has been actively managed since 1955. Staff, along with partners and volunteers, create and carry out numerous management programs. Although the specific programs continually evolve, all management plans are designed to support the mission of the refuge.
Comprehensive Conservation Plan
The Comprehensive Conservation Plan is complete. This management plan will guide the refuge for the next 15 years and beyond. Click Here to download the final plan (6.45 MB PDF file).
Three marsh units have been constructed on the refuge, all designed to allow for control of the water level in these important wetland habitats. These units are dry by the end of summer and flooded in the fall. This practice, called Moist Soil Management, encourages the growth of naturally occurring seed bearing plants. The rising water levels in the fall cause the dropped seeds of marsh plants to float, making them available to arriving winter waterfowl.
The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge provides ideal feeding and resting areas for thousands of migrating and wintering waterfowl. To enhance the feeding opportunities for these birds, some areas of the refuge are farmed; currently, local cooperators farm approximately 730 acres of refuge land. Crops are usually alfalfa or grass hay and grains. These fields are managed for food use for migratory birds, and many wildlife species can benefit from these farming practices. Migratory bird species, such as cackling geese and sandhill cranes consume these grain crops. Birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks, hunt for rodents and other small mammals living in agricultural fields.
Invasive species are one of the leading challenges for natural resource protection. They degrade native habitats, threatening fish and wildlife, with the potential to alter entire ecosystems. There are several species invading various habitats on the refuge. Many of the wetland and riparian woodlands are being invaded by salt cedar, Russian olive, purple loosestrife, and bull frogs. In the shrub-steppe habitat, the invasive species of primary concern is cheatgrass. Many approaches and techniques are used to control these species, including application of chemicals, mechanical removal, prescribed burning, and biological control.
Cheatgrass is the most common and widespread invasive species on the refuge. Compared to native bunchgrasses, this contiguous ground cover fuels larger and more intense wildfires. Cooperative research aimed at reducing wildfire risk in shrub-steppe has been ongoing with Washington State University - Tricities. This research has focused on reducing invasive cheatgrass and restoring sustainable native plant communities. Research results are available on the WSU web site.
The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Fire Management Program provides prescribed fire operations for the refuge. It also supplies wildland fire suppression resources for both the refuge and surrounding areas. For more information about the fire program within the Mid-Columbia Refuges, please contact the main office.
Prescribed Fire. While uncontrolled fire is a threat, carefully managed fires are an important tool available for management of refuge lands. Prescribed fires, or controlled burns, may be used to meet specific resource management or fire management objectives, including wildlife management, vegetation management, research accommodation, and hazard fuel reduction. Fire managers coordinate with biologists and other refuge specialists to determine appropriate areas and times to implement burns.
Wildland Fire. The suppression of wildland fire is an important function of the refuge fire program. Efficient and safe suppression efforts require well-trained and equipped firefighters. They utilize numerous resources and tactics during suppression efforts in order to minimize damages and protect the fire-intolerant shrub-steppe habitat. Refuge firefighters also cooperate with local and regional fire dispatches to respond to wildland fires throughout the area.
In order to support recreational fishing, as well as uphold the mission of the refuge, fisheries resources are managed. Many areas of the refuge are closed to fishing, particularly during the winter months, to provide sanctuary for migratory waterfowl. Currently, both trout and spiney ray fisheries are managed through an agreement with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some of the lakes and waterways on the refuge are stocked with fingerling-sized fish. Occasionally, some of the waterways are treated with rotenone to reduce carp populations. An overpopulation of these fish can significantly impact aquatic vegetation and wetland functions. For more information about fisheries management at the refuge, please contact the office.