Resource Management

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Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge provides food, cover, and breeding habitat for migratory birds and resident wildlife. The Refuge conserves and enhances the mixtures of wetland and desert habitats found in the area to accomplish these goals. Habitat management tools used on the Refuge include water and wetland management, weed control, haying, grazing, and prescribed fire.


Water is the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley. While only 7 inches of precipitation falls annually in the Valley, spring snow melt from the Sangre de Cristo Range and San Juan Mountains supply most of the water to the Valley. The water feeds the Rio Grande, agricultural ditches, and natural areas in the Valley. This inflow of water creates a unique mosaic of wetland and desert habitats, each with its own plant and animal community.


Alamosa Refuge includes more than 15 miles of critical riparian habitat adjacent to the Rio Grande. For nearly 150 years, farmers have diverted flows from the river to irrigate the arid landscape of the San Luis Valley. This practice has significantly limited the river’s flow pattern, altering its ability to move across the landscape as it had done for thousands of years. These reduced flows considerably impact the riparian areas.

We use water from ditches that run mostly parallel to the river. These ditches were constructed in the early 1900s for irrigation. The water is used to simulate the annual flooding which historically occurred across the landscape and to manage thousands of acres of wetland habitats for the benefit of migratory birds. Numerous dikes and other water control structures send water to a patchwork of diverse wetland habitats ranging from shallow wet meadows to open water. Levels in the ponds and wetlands change to provide birds with adequate aquatic vegetation and invertebrates for food and escape cover.

Grazing and Burning

We manage habitat for a variety of plant species to meet the needs of a multitude of wildlife species, with a specific emphasis on nesting and migrating birds. Grazing livestock, haying grasses, and using prescribed fire are additional tools that we use to provide the diversity of plants that wildlife depend on throughout the year. Some bird species will not use tall vegetation and some will only use short vegetation to nest, forage, and hide within. Through the careful use of these tools we can provide what they need to survive.

Invasive Weeds 

Invasive weeds are a threat to the entire San Luis Valley Refuges. Applying herbicides, using water management and grazing livestock, and other types of management treatments are used to combat invasive weeds. Tall whitetop (Lepidium latifolium) is one of the most problematic. It thrives in saline moist soils, but is incredibly adaptable, infesting a wide variety of wetlands and upland sites, frequently out competing native vegetation favored by wildlife. This plant appears to flourish in wetlands that receive rest from regular removal of vegetation. Consequently the practice of extended rest that is beneficial to ground nesting birds in the short term may, over the long term, negatively impact these habitats.