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Resource Management

Blue Winged Teal

Refuge lakes, grasslands, and marshes are managed for the benefit of wildlife using prescribed fire, cattle grazing, water level manipulations, and control of non-native plants and animals. Monitoring and research guide management of refuge habitats and wildlife.

Migratory birds, such as these blue-winged teal, nest in grasslands and raise their broods in nearby wetlands.


Cattle Grazing

Grazing Cattle 

Historically, the prairies and marshes evolved under wildfire and grazing. Today, cattle and carefully controlled prescribed fire are used to mimic those historic processes. Grazing can be used to encourage the lush growth of grasses in which waterfowl and other birds prefer to nest. Grazing stimulates the growth of grasses, returns nutrients to the soil, and removes dead plant material, which can cause grasslands to stagnate. Properly timed grazing can also be used to control non-native grasses which are not as desirable for nesting cover.
 

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed Fire 

Carefully planned and controlled prescribed fires have replaced wild fires that once shaped and helped manage prairie grasses. As with grazing, fire can be used to encourage the lush growth of grasses in which waterfowl and other birds prefer to nest. Fire stimulates the growth of grasses, returns nutrients to the soil, encourages growth of forbs, and removes dead plant material, which can cause grasslands to stagnate. Properly timed prescribed fire can also be used to control non-native grasses, which are not as desirable for nesting cover. Trees invading refuge grasslands are also controlled. Many prairie birds are more successful in nesting in landscapes without trees. 

 

Rest

 Mallard Nest - M Buschmann  

Each year, much of the refuge grassland is rested, that is to say it is not treated with grazing or prescribed fire. Many birds, including grouse and waterfowl, prefer to nest and nest more successfully in tall grasses left over from the previous year. Refuge managers evaluate grassland condition to determine when management is needed.
 

Water Management

Water Control Structure 

Some of the refuge lakes and wetlands have water control structures which allow managers to raise or lower the water levels. Lowering water levels creates sand or mud flats that provide foraging places for shorebirds. Plants become established on these flats and when re-flooded are favored feeding spots for waterfowl. Lake levels can also be kept high to benefit sport fisheries. New ponds have been created to provide wetlands needed by wildlife. 

 

Research and Monitoring

Grassland Monitoring 

 

Refuge biologists conduct studies and do wildlife and plant surveys that are used as a basis for refuge management. Grouse numbers are monitored using spring lek counts and hunter harvest information. Waterfowl nesting success is evaluated by conducting duck pair and brood counts in the spring. Bald eagle nests on and adjacent to the refuge are observed and the number of young noted. Breeding bird and amphibian call surveys are run along established routes each spring. Grassland condition is evaluated with numerous transects that measure the height, density, and types of grasses on the refuge. These and other wildlife and habitat monitoring efforts provide valuable information need to better manage the Refuge. 

 

Control of Non-Native Plants and Animals

Invasive Plants 

Many plants and several animals that are not native to the area have become established on the Refuge. Some of these are or have the potential to become problems when they displace native species or degrade habitat for wildlife. Planned grazing, prescribed fire, herbicides, or cutting are used to control problem plants such as Canada thistle, purple loostrife, invasive common reed, brome grass, cedar trees, and in some cases deciduous trees. Early detection and rapid response is used to prevent new invaders from becoming established. Carp, which uproot vegetation and reduce waterfowl food plants, are controlled to restore productivity.
 

Threatened and Endangered Species

Blowout Penstemon 

Two plants and one insect that are on the Endangered Species List can be found on the Refuge. The showy blowout penstemon grows in wind eroded, bare sandy areas called blowouts. Refuge staff monitor the plants status and have also transplanted nursery stock into blowouts to increase the population on the Refuge. The western prairie fringed orchid grows in wet meadows and puts forth showy flowers in July. Refuge meadows are managed to allow the plants to flower and set seed. The American burying beetle, a carrion beetle that builds a nest and cares for its young, makes its home in the Refuge grasslands. Periodic surveys are conducted to assess its status. Whooping cranes, piping plover, and least terns are rare visitors to the Refuge.
Page Photo Credits — NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission - Blue Winged Teal
Last Updated: Apr 03, 2014
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