The refuge currently controls 18,500 acres. Additions are being proposed to protect more important wildlife habitat, which will eventually increase the refuge to 32,800 acres.
While Grays Lake is a natural lake, its water level is regulated according to agreements that balance the needs of wildlife with various off-refuge interests. Completed refuge land acquisition will open the door to new water management that will improve conditions for refuge wildlife.
Habitat management focuses on measures to benefit cranes and waterfowl. Vegetation is manipulated by hay cutting, cattle grazing and controlled burning. These practices are timed to create good feeding and resting sites.
To supplement the natural foods available to wildlife, the refuge grows grain crops, primarily barley. This encourages cranes and geese to stay on refuge lands where they are safest, and provides extra nutrients to prepare them for migration. These food plots also help keep the abundant sandhill cranes and geese from feeding on nearby farmers’ crops where they may not be welcome.
An ongoing project at the refuge is developing more clearings, ponds and islands in the lakebed. More open water in the dense marsh vegetation will benefit many nesting waterbirds and waterfowl.
Grays Lake has the distinction of being the largest hardstem bulrush marsh in the world. Refuge workers often use specialized equipment to travel in the vast marsh, including air-thrust boats and a tracked, amphibious marsh vehicle.