Fire Management

Refuge staff walking through prairie starting a prescribed burn

Prescribed burns keep the Refuge's native plants and grasses robust and healthy.

To keep the Refuge's native prairie grasslands flourishing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans prescribed burns in the spring and fall. Burning the vegetation improves wildlife habitat, controls weeds and reduces the amount of leaves, dead grass, branches and dead trees, and helps reduce or prevent wildfires. Fire returns minerals and nutrients directly to the soil, making them immediately available to plants, and can kill weed seeds and annual weeds. After a burn, native plants come back much more robust and healthy.

Neighboring communities near the Refuge may see smoke coming from the Refuge in the spring and fall from these prescribed burns. Typically, burning does not occur during the summer months because grassland birds are using areas for nesting and lack of rain fall during the hot summer months prevents grasses from growing after a fire.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully develops a burn plan with specific goals for each area. Burn plans "prescribe" the appropriate temperature, weather, and necessary fire techniques in order to safely achieve management goals. Prescribed burns are closely coordinated with the State of Colorado and entities surrounding the site such as Denver International Airport. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtains a special smoke permit each year and burns can only be conducted on days that meet the permits' specification.  

Fire is an important tool for land managers, but it can only be used under very specific conditions and only at certain times of the year. When fire can't be utilized to eliminate weeds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actively mows and uses herbicides to kill weeds, and actively mows weeds to prevent seed production, keeping the prairie in good health. Controlling and removing weeds, whether by prescribed burns, herbicide spraying or mowing, gives native plants room to grow.

Next time you visit the Refuge or drive by the site, take a closer look at the vegetation. It's a showcase of Colorado's native plants and grasses that once swayed across the state's rolling prairie lands for as far as the eye could see.