Wildlife Habitat Management
The Refuge consists of rolling grassland, upland hardwoods, and crop land. Past farming practices have led to severe soil erosion problems. Initial management efforts were focused on controlling erosion, thus enhancing the water quality entering the underground cave system to benefit the endangered species inhabiting Key Cave.
Currently, approximately 295 acres are in row crop production (corn, soybeans, or wheat) under a Cooperative Farm Agreement, 327 acres are in early successional fields or native warm season grasses (big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats gramma, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass), 122 acres of former crop land have been planted to hardwoods, 30 acres of erosion drainages are being restored to grassland or hedgerow habitat, 16 acres are managed as shallow water areas, and the remaining 256 acres is forested land dominated by upland oaks and hickories.
Prescribed fire will be the primary management tool used to manage the grasslands. Management activities such as disking, haying, and grazing may also be used for grassland management.
Wildlife Species Management:
- Protect Alabama Cavefish and gray bats and their critical habitat.
- Provide habitat for a natural diversity of wildlife and plants, especially species associated with cave systems.
- Provide opportunity for compatible outdoor recreation, environmental education/ interpretation.
The Refuge is the only known location of the Alabama cavefish which inhabits the underground pools in Key Cave. Based on the apparent distribution, the number of specimens collected, and the number of individuals observed, this small fish appears to be the rarest of American cavefish and one of the rarest of all freshwater fish. Two species of blind crayfish (Procambarus pecki and Cambarus jonesi) also inhabit Key Cave. Key Cave is also a priority one maternity cave for the endangered gray bat. Gray bat emergence counts are conducted annually and have averaged 33,400 gray bats since inception of the refuge in 1997. Approximately 5,000 young gray bats are produced annually by this maternity colony.
In addition to the endangered species mentioned above, the refuge provides habitat for a variety of migratory and resident wildlife species. One hundred and sixty bird species have been sighted on the refuge. Several bird species commonly seen during the breeding season include dickcissels, grasshopper sparrows, field sparrows, and northern bobwhite, which are indicative of the native grasslands and early successional habitats found on the refuge. Northern harriers can be seen flying low over refuge grasslands searching for prey during the winter months. Short-eared owls can also be seen occasionally in grasslands during the winter. Other commonly seen wildlife species include cottontail rabbits, coyotes, white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, eastern meadowlarks, horned larks, and eastern bluebirds.