Refuge forests have about 30 species of trees including many post oak, blackjack oak, cedar elm, hickory, redbud, and Osage orange trees. Eastern red cedar and mesquite have invaded some areas, as have honey locust and winged elm.Forest types range from post oak woods to bottomland hardwoods and scattered brush uplands. Post oak and blackjack oak are found in sandy soil in the western portion of the refuge. No cutting for timber stand improvement or grazing occurs, but partial control of woody invaders such as cedar is accomplished by prescribed burning. Common forest-dwellers include white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and fox squirrel – all of which feast on acorns and hickory nuts. Bobcat, fox squirrel, opossum, gray fox, and raccoon are also commonly found here.
The refuge currently farms approximately 300 acres of winter wheat. Most of the farm fields are adjacent to the lakeshore and receive heavier goose use than outlying fields. The main objective of the refuge farming program is to provide browse for over-wintering and spring migrating snow, Ross’, white-fronted, and Canada geese. An extra benefit to refuge neighbors is that refuge crops help alleviate depredation of private farmlands off-refuge. Several refuge farm-fields not adjacent to the lake are planted with a wildlife/clover blend during late summer. Wildlife species such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys benefit from these areas and crops planted for migrating waterfowl.
Historically, almost 4,000 acres of refuge uplands would have been native tallgrass prairie. But by the early 1900’s, all of those lands had been converted to farmland. Efforts are now underway to restore as many of these acres as possible back to prairie. This effort requires removing invasive cedar, honey locust, and winged-elm trees with tree shears and forestry cutters, burning brush and woody vegetation, and re-seeding native grass and wildflower seeds with a seed-drill. Funding, manpower, time, and patience are all needed to return the species that should be on the landscape. During this growing phase, prescribed fire will be used to keep trees from re-invading the grassland area. An example of on-going prairie restoration efforts can be seen at the corner of Bennett Lane (west of Big Mineral Creek) near the refuge’s southeast entrance sign.
Plant and animal species on most National Wildlife Refuges, including Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, evolved with fire as a natural component of the ecosystem. Different ecosystems require fire at different intervals to thrive as productive wildlife habitat. In grassland communities, as were found on Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge historically, fire would have naturally occurred every three to five years, killing trees and shrub species that had invaded the prairie. In the past, before prescribed burning became a more common management tool, suppression of natural fires led to heavy fuel loads in many areas, which often resulted in catastrophic wildfires.
Today, the use of prescribed fire is widely accepted as a primary tool for land and resource managers. Carefully planned prescribed fire gives refuge managers flexibility and increased control to burn under the right conditions, more effectively managing fire effects and smoke to benefit natural resources while keeping firefighters and the public safe. These actions help reduce the risk of devastating wildfires that can threaten people, communities, fish, wildlife and plants. Many factors affect prescribed fire planning including weather forecasts, wind speed and direction, humidity level, and type of vegetation to be burned. Weather conditions permitting, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge schedules and conducts prescribed burns annually, rotating burn units to imitate a more natural cycle.For
more information on prescribed fire, please watch Managing Fire to Benefit
Wildlife and People at http://www.fws.gov/fire/outreach/
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