Resource Management

Prescribed Burn at Big Stone NWR

In order to maintain the diversity of habitat and the plants and animals that depend on it, Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge takes careful consideration in choosing the best management practices.

  • Prescribed Fire

    FWS Prescribed Burn

    Throughout North America many habitats depend on fire for survival, including tallgrass prairies. Fire kept the tallgrass prairie healthy because it removed dead vegetation and returned nutrients to the soil, nurturing native grasses and wildflowers. Fire also kept shrubs and trees from invading the open grasslands. Quite simply, it kept the prairie a prairie. It is estimated that, before European settlement, the prairie burned every four or five years.

    Refuge staff mimic the historic cycle of fire by burning areas every 4-5 years. Fires are carefully planned based on the type of habitat, wind and weather conditions, and safety. Only when certain parameters – or a “prescription” – are met will fire staff begin a prescribed burn. 

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  • Non-native Vegetation


    The plants and animals that rely on Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge adapted together over thousands of years. New plants may out-compete native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife, such as smooth brome and Kentucky blue grass. Other invasive plants are trees like siberian elm and box elder that encroach on native grasslands. Others are forbs and shrubs such as Canada thistle and leafy spurge. Refuge staff uses several methods to stay ahead of this invasion, including mowing, haying, and herbicide treatment.

  • Water Management

    Blue-winged Teal

    Refuge staff adjust water levels at different times of year to provide the best habitat conditions for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other water birds. During some seasons, water may be removed from an area to allow wetlands plants to germinate and grow during the summer. That same area may be shallowly flooded in fall to provide feeding habitat for dabbling ducks. Other areas may create mudflats in spring and fall so migrating shorebirds can probe for insects.

    The refuge has several water impoundments which enable us to manage more than 2,000 acres of marsh and open water habitat . However, water levels are ultimately controlled by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers as flood control mandates dictate. Several smaller sub-impoundments allow us to manage 300 acres independently from any flood control needs.

  • Biological Program


    Annually, refuge staff completes a number of biological surveys that include waterfowl breeding pair counts (on/off refuge), vegetation monitoring and sensitive plant species surveys.

  • Land Acquisition

    Land Aquisition

    Land acquisition to achieve the current goal of approximately 14,300 acres is on-going on a willing-seller basis. 

  • Trapping Occurs on this Refuge

    Trapping photo

    Trapping is a wildlife management tool used on some national wildlife refuges. Trapping may be used to protect endangered and threatened species or migratory birds or to control certain wildlife populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also views trapping as a legitimate recreational and economic activity when there are harvestable surpluses of fur-bearing mammals. Outside of Alaska, refuges that permit trapping as a recreational use may require trappers to obtain a refuge special use permit. Signs are posted on refuges where trapping occurs. Contact the refuge manager for specific regulations. Click here for more information.