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Refuge management focuses on maintaining natural area and wilderness values. In this context, management first provides habitat for migratory birds and endangered species followed closely with an emphasis on native wildlife such as moose and several sensitive species. Water is managed to provide nesting habitat for swans and other waterfowl, with a secondary benefit for fisheries. Much of the Refuge already has substantial natural habitat diversity. Our management seeks to enhance those natural area values where appropriate, and maintain them where natural processes are functioning well.
Historically grazed by bison, our present grazing and prescribed burning programs help maintain forage quality for big game grazing, and a mix of shrubs and grass structure for nesting birds. Red Rock Lakes is a highly productive, high elevation (6,600 feet) intermountain wetland habitat. In recognition of these lushly vegetated mountain meadows, we maintain dense vegetation which provides hiding cover for a balanced predator/prey coexistence without the direct intrusion of a predator control program. This results in viewing opportunities for fox, coyotes, badgers, and other predators, as well as prey species. The denser cover also maintains populations of rodents which provide prey for numerous hawks and owls. The riparian and riverine habitats on the Refuge are some of the most vegetated and diverse in the western states. Management focuses on maintaining willow densities for bird diversity and moose forage.
Refuge staff conduct occasional wildlife surveys depending on staffing levels and funding. However, the Refuge conducts two major trumpeter swan aerial surveys covering the tri-state areas of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. These surveys guide the management of the entire Rocky Mountain population of trumpeter swans. Through the years, trumpeter swans relocated from Red Rock Lakes helped to restore their populations throughout the Midwest and mountain states.
Injured and Sick Wildlife
Throughout the year, Refuge staff respond to reports of injured and sick wildlife and routinely note and investigate any unusual wildlife behavior. During banding, trumpeter swan health is monitored carefully. Blood is drawn from any swan appearing unfit and samples are sent out for analysis. Injured swans, as well as raptors and other birds in reasonable condition, are transported to Big Sky Wildcare in Bozeman, Montana, for treatment and rehabilitation. In the rare case that a trumpeter is found dead, the Refuge sends the swan to the National Wildlife Health Research Center (in Madison, Wisconsin) for necropsy to determine the cause of death.
The Refuge and vicinity are patrolled by both Refuge staff and other law enforcement personnel. Their presence helps to provide a safe outdoor experience for visitors. Although the campgrounds and visitor areas are considered safe, visitors should always use precautions (removing keys and locking unattended vehicles). Fishing and hunting regulations are also enforced by State game wardens who patrol the area regularly.
The Refuge does not permit commercial outfitting or guiding. However, outfitters can apply for a Special Use Permit to cross the Refuge with their clients to get to adjacent BLM lands where they can legally operate.
Occasionally, the Red Rock Lakes NWR conducts prescribed burns to selected sections of Refuge lands. In years past, before the arrival of ranches and fences in the Centennial Valley, wildfires lit by lightning strikes raged uncontrolled across the Valley grasslands. Over the centuries, the fire-tamed Valley landscape alternated from vast expanses of uninterrupted grassland to grasslands interspersed with small forested areas and back again to solid grassland. In recent times, active suppression of wildfires has caused forests of aspen, firs, and spruce to gain a foothold in some grassland areas. Periodic prescribed burns help to limit the spread of these trees and allow the native grasses to rejuvenate and regain the areas lost to forests. The last prescribed burn conducted on the Refuge was in September 2008.
The primary resource objectives of controlled burning from a management point of view are to (1) reduce hazardous fuels; (2) improve composition and vigor of dense nesting cover for waterfowl; and (3) improve nesting cover for other ground nesting birds (e.g., sparrows). Additionally, controlled burning helps to remove accumulated litter, minimize the effects of a catastrophic natural fire, and stimulate native grass production.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fire Management Web Site
The Refuge coordinates with state and county agencies and The Nature Conservancy to help control the spread of noxious weeds in the Centennial Valley. Please visit the Noxious Weed Webpage for more information.