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Resource Management

Blackwater NWR Marsh master assiting burning Maga Ta-Hohpi WPAResource Management Actions can impact local wildlife populations, farming, grazing, haying, and burning are important management tools that help the Huron WMD improve wildlife habitat.  Prior to settlement of South Dakota, historical records estimate that prairies burned at least every 5 years.  Prairie plants have special adaptations that allow them to survive and even flourish after a fire.  Invasive plants such as smooth brome can be controlled best with prescribed fire.  Here a fire crew from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge assists our fire staff with a controlled burn on the Maga Ta-Hohpi WPA.

During the winter months, planning is underway for the lands that are managed by the Huron Wetland Management District (WMD). As we get closer to spring it is very common to get asked, "Why do you burn?", "Why don't you hay/graze more or less?", "Why are you farming a Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA)?" Every spring, the managers and biologists at Huron WMD discuss which WPAs we are going to burn, graze, farm or hay. Our management activities attempt to mimic what happened on the prairie for hundreds of years before European settlement. These historic activities included huge prairie wildfires, and grazing by millions of bison.  Native plants and animals have adaptations that allow them to survive these distrubances. 

In order to choose the best management treatment, we look at what has happened on that WPA in the past 5-10 years. Other factors that drive our management practices are, how serious is the invasive plant infestation on that WPA, what kind of grass is found on the WPA, and what are our management goals for that WPA?  After evaluating all these factors, the decision is made to graze, burn, farm, hay, or rest the WPA for that year.  Refuge staff carefully considers any management techniques and employ them in varying degrees according to the situation.  

Water levels are carefully monitored and controlled to foster desired plant growth. Sometimes, sensitive areas are closed to the public so that the land can recover more quickly.   Prescribed burning, mowing, experimental bio-control insect releases, and seeding are also some of the techniques used to help native plants recover on national wildlife refuges.

Standardized ground and aerial wildlife surveys and vegetation surveys are conducted on some refuges throughout the year to inventory populations and document habitat use. Units are evaluated by how well they met habitat and wildlife use objectives.   

Public involvement and input are important to us and to the planning process, and we hope you will take an active interest in the process, individually and as a community. 



"Why do we farm WPAs?" Typically the Huron WMD farms a particular WPA for three years prior to reseeding the area back to native grasses. We only farm ground that has previously been farmed, and contains stands of invasive non-native tame grasses such as smooth brome, crested wheatgrass, and Kentucky Bluegrass.  Typically we farm the first year with corn, followed by two years of oats or soybeans. Round Up Ready crops leave a clean, relatively weed free seed bed. Soybean fields create a very firm seedbed and have very little crop residue, this allows the area to be ready to plant into the following spring. Typically the FWS doesn't plant food plots. However, when we are farming an area, part of the cooperator's permit will require them is to leave a food plot.  

Three years after an area has been replanted to grass, some type of management is needed to remove excess dead vegetation and stimulate growth of planted natives. Grazing or burning are the preferred management tools. Haying is less preferred because it tends to remove desired native grass species from seeded areas and promotes invasive grasses such as smooth brome.



"Why do we graze WPAs?"  Grazing is done alone or in conjunction with burning. Like burning or farming, we graze an area to help improve or stimulate the native grasses and reduce invasive non-native grasses. We'll also graze an area that is primarily invasive grasses to help open the grass canopy and allow native species to compete for water and sunlight. A Cooperator will put their cows on the WPA early in the spring or after a prescribed burn, just as the area starts to green up again so that the grasses the cows focus on are the invasive grasses such as smooth brome and crested wheatgrass. These are usually the first to green up. Again the strategy behind this is that the tame grasses get stressed from grazing and this gives the native grasses a better chance to out compete them. Management units are grazed for a short period of time usually one month or less in early spring. A few WPAs are being grazed during the entire grazing season in conjuction with a perscribed burn as part of a "patch, burn, graze" adaptive management study. We are conducting this study with the hopes of reducing the amount of non-native introduced grasses on the WPA.



"Why do we hay?" Huron WMD has moved away from using haying as a regular management activity, because it doesn't match up well to what happened on the prairie prior to European settlement. Haying is usually done late in the summer. It removes all vegetation including seeds from the site. Cattle on the other hand "fertilize" and "reseed" the area and eat invasive grasses. Hoof action by the animals compacts the soil, increases breakdown of dead grasses in to the soil, and allows seed to contact soil, causing more seedlings to appear after grazing. We will use haying if we can't burn or graze prior to farming, or if the WPA is dominated by tame grasses and we can't find a Cooperator to graze the unit. Haying is also done in late summer and fall in order to remove vegetation prior to farming.


Fire Management

Our prime duties are to provide for Public and Firefighter safety, protection of Public and Private property from damage from wildfire. We provide fire suppression on the Federal lands in the district and assist local and National fire agencies with either fire management or suppression. The Huron District has 2 Light (type 6) fire engines, one tracked (ASV Scout) low ground pressure fire artack vehicle and several 6X6 UTV's configured to suppress fires.  Learn More about Huron Fire Management 



Finally, you might be wondering who our Cooperators are and how we find them. Cooperators are area farmers and ranchers. Once a WPA is sold to the FWS, the prior landowner or prior farming cooperator is given the option to lease the land in accordance to the Animal Unit Month (AUM) rate set annually by the FWS for South Dakota.  An AUM is the amount of forage required by an animal for one month.   In addition to grazing, the cooperator must agree to repair existing boundary fence and in some instances install temporary fence or haul water. Anyone that is interested in farming, grazing or haying an area needs to contact one of the District managers at 605-352-5894,  so they may be added to a list of potential cooperators.



Page Photo Credits — Marsh master Maga Ta-Hohpi WPA burn, USFWS
Last Updated: May 22, 2014
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