Resource Management

Marsh Burn 512x219

 A healthy marsh is one rich in plant and animal diversity.  

To accomplish this, refuge staff use a variety of tools to mimic the dynamic processes that, until recently, naturally occurred for thousands of years.  Prescribed burns, grazing, managing water levels and controlling exotic plants are just a few of the tools that are used to manage a healthy, productive, and diverse marsh ecosystem.

Prescribed Burning 

Key food for wildlife includes the leafy portion of plants, flowers, and seeds, as well as underground rhizomes and tubers.  If wildfire is suppressed, years of dense vegetation will shade the soil surface, preventing seeds of other plants from germinating or surviving.  Burning removes dead plant matter and allows other species of plants to grow.

A productive burn removes vegetation just above ground.  It is usually conducted while there is still some water on the surface.  The water prevents the soil from overheating and helps protect the plant’s root systems.  After a fire, most vegetation will sprout from the roots and the marsh is quickly covered with new growth.  In addition, as the sunlight warms the soil, many other plants will sprout from seed.


Grazing is used to increase the value of marsh and wet prairies for wintering waterfowl, nesting mottled ducks, and many other wildlife species.  The combination of prescribed fire and grazing sets back plant succession and produces a marsh with greater plant diversity.  Increased plant diversity means more food is available for a wider variety of wildlife species.

Due to their high protein content, insects are another key food item for wildlife.  These are an important diet component for young birds, promoting growth and proper development.  It is also important for adult birds, so they can breed successfully.  Standing water in grazed areas will warm more quickly than areas with heavy growth.  Warm water increases production and growth of invertebrates, including insects.


Managing water levels, in combination with grazing, prescribed burning, and controlling salinity concentrations, provide the best conditions for producing native food for wildlife.  Water is managed on the refuge with water control structures, levees, and weirs.  These structures are also used to prevent saltwater from intruding into freshwater wetlands.

Exotic Plants 

Exotic plants are often fast growing and highly invasive, outcompeting native plant species. Because of this, exotic plants can quickly reduce the diversity of vegetation found in a healthy marsh or prairie.  Less diversity in the plant community can negatively affect wildlife.  Water hyacinth, Chinese tallow, and giant salvinia are a few examples of exotic plant species controlled on the refuge.