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Resource Management

RX_512x219The loss of 1.2 million acres of historic wetlands in Texas means what remains is especially important for wildlife. The refuge utilizes various tools to manage these lands for the benefit of wildlife.

Fire Management
Historically, wildfire was an integral part of the coastal prairie ecosystem. Fires from lightning strikes would sweep across the landscape maintaining the grasslands and keeping trees and brush from becoming established. Today, federal wildland firefighters work closely with refuge biologists to mimic what used to occur naturally through controlled, or prescribed burning. Combined with mowing or grazing, controlled burns help maintain the open grasslands and puts important nutrients back into the soil. These nutrients encourage the growth of native plants that are adapted to fire. Controlled burning removes potentially hazardous ‘fuels’, dead grasses and vegetation that, left unburned, will accumulate and ultimately burn hotter and be much more dangerous.

The refuge conducts prescribed burns on a rotational basis, burning approximately every three to four years or more often if the habitat will benefit from increased fire. Fire staff monitors weather and fuel conditions to ensure the burns achieve the best results for the habitat with minimal impact to the refuge’s human neighbors. They work closely with other partners and communities to protect people and property while maintaining the refuge’s healthy and productive ecosystems. The Texas Mid-coast National Wildlife Refuge Fire Program is dedicated to protecting life, property and natural resources.

Wetland Restoration and Management
Because of the significant loss of wetlands, one of the refuge’s top priorities is the restoration of wetlands. To do this, the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge manipulates water levels using water control structures and levees to mimic the historic hydrology and wetlands system. Different strategies are implemented according to the time of year and types of birds using the refuge. Although rainfall is the principle source of water, during droughts, the refuge must supplement rainfall using ground water pumped from wells. Although this option can be expensive, during severe droughts, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge may have the only ponded freshwater for miles around.

It is necessary to ensure water levels are maintained to promote food production. The prescription requires the right amount of sunlight and water depth to support abundant and diverse populations of invertebrates and native plants. Invertebrates, including insects, are an important protein source for waterfowl and shorebirds. Seeds and plant parts (leaves, roots, and tubers) provide energy and essential nutrients for wintering waterfowl. Often, mechanical and/or chemical manipulation is required to promote native vegetation and set-back succession to increase productivity.

Invasive Species Management
Natural habitats are increasingly invaded by non-native or invasive species. The refuge tries to combat this invasion by restoring or mimicking historical processes when possible. If this option isn’t available, we must resort to mechanical or chemical techniques to control these invasive species.

A few of the more problematic invasive plants that the refuge deals with are Chinese tallow, deep-rooted sedge, saltcedar, and water hyacinth.

Invasive animals can also be an issue and displace natives or compete with them for resources. Two or the more troublesome invasive animal populations on the refuge are feral hogs and red imported fire ants.
Page Photo Credits — Prescribed burn
Last Updated: Oct 17, 2013
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