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Resource Management

SandhillCranes_Fire_512x219Refuge staff depends upon and utilizes various tools to manage the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the benefit of wildlife.

Prescribed Burns
Historically, wildfire was an integral part of the coastal prairie ecosystem. Today, prescribed burns are recognized as the primary management tool at Aransas Refuge. Federal wildland firefighters conduct controlled burns on the refuge’s live oak savannah and native coastal grassland communities. With an average of 10,000 acres burned every year since 1990, fire has proven effective at controlling and even reversing significant challenges with invasive and exotic plant species.

For more than two decades the refuge has used fall and early winter fires (October to early January) to improve winter feeding areas for whooping cranes. Usually within a day or two of the burn whooping cranes can be seen feeding in the area. Prescribed burns done in late summer provide a regrowth of grasses and forbs for waterfowl and sandhill cranes returning to the refuge for the winter.

Refuge fire staff monitors weather and fuel conditions to ensure the burns achieve the best results for the habitat. They work with other partners, public and private, to protect people and property and maintain healthy and productive ecosystems.

Wetland Management
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has more than 24,000 acres of natural and managed wetlands. Wetland types range from salt marshes along the bays to brackish and freshwater wetlands within the Blackjack Peninsula and Matagorda Island Unit. On the Myrtle-Foester Whitmire Unit, biologists manage moist soil impoundments that provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and breeding mottled ducks. Seeds and plant parts (leaves, roots, and tubers) in the moist soil impoundments provide energy and essential nutrients for wintering waterfowl. These wetlands also support abundant and diverse populations of invertebrates, including insects - an important protein source for waterfowl. Water levels are raised or lowered in the impoundments depending on the time of year and types of birds using the refuge.

Protecting Native Species
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is actively involved in protecting and restoring habitat through the control of invasive and exotic plant and animal species. All control efforts conducted on the refuge are designed to improve the conditions for native plant and wildlife populations.

Exotic and invasive plants will often out-compete native plants for sunlight, water and other critical resources. Their value to wildlife is minimal and because these plants did not evolve here, they have no natural predators. Aransas Refuge has several invasive plant species including saltcedar, Chinese tallow, alligator weed, and McCartney rose. On the refuge invasive vegetation is controlled by a combination of mechanical, biological, and chemical methods as well as by the application of prescribed fire. In order to manage invasive animals, the Aransas Refuge partners with the USDA-APHIS to control feral hogs.
Page Photo Credits — Sandhill cranes feeding during a prescribed fire / Jeff Adams
Last Updated: Nov 07, 2012
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