Resource Management

Prescribed burn 512x219

Refuge staff use a variety of management techniques to protect and restore wildlife habitat at Ouray Refuge, including prescribed fire and control of invasive species. 

Most of the management activities on the Refuge focus on protection and restoration of riparian, wetland, and upland natural ecosystems. During years with average river levels, the bottomlands of the Refuge flood. During dry years, additional water can be added to certain areas, but most of the water levels are maintained in their natural state, with management concentrating on producing a variety of habitat conditions such as mudflats for shorebirds and flood areas for feeding and nesting opportunities.   

One of our resource management priorities on Ouray Refuge is controlling invasive species. Numerous invasive plant species threaten all habitat types on the Refuge by competing with native plant species.  Native plants are preferred by most wildlife species for forage and cover.  Native plants, ranging from cottonwood trees to the grasses and forbs of the uplands, are all at risk. Control of invasive species and restoration of native species involves a wide range of habitat management techniques, including water management, prescribed burning, mowing, chemical treatments, and planting/reseeding of native species.  

Like many other areas managed for wildlife and biodiversity, fire at Ouray Refuge is a management tool. Through careful planning and observation, fires are used to remove invasive species and and clear out excess fuels. These prescribed burns typically occur during the winter and spring months when moisture levels are highest to help prevent unintended damage.

Mechanical treatments such as mowing or grinding are used to remove or reduce invasive plant species.  These techniques may be combined with other treatments such as herbicide application or prescribed burning to prevent the invasive species from re-sprouting.  

Chemical treatments are used only when other techniques would not be effective.  We must prepare a Pesticide Use Proposal before initiating any project involving herbicide use. Herbicides are carefully chosen and applied to minimize any unintended effects to native species.  

Following treatments to remove invasive species, we often plant native species such as willow or reseed with native grasses.  Our goal is to increase native species that provide important food, cover, and nesting habitat for native wildlife.  

Selenium contamination is prevalent in this area.  We have taken steps to try to prevent selenium from entering any additional Refuge wetlands, such as drying out certain high-risk areas. Selenium is an essential nutrient, but in wildlife and people excess amounts can be dangerous. Selenium poisoning has been documented in many bird species as well as in mammals and humans. Plants and invertebrates in contaminated aquatic systems may
accumulate selenium in concentrations that are toxic to birds. Selenium poisoning may cause poor reproductive performance in birds, as well as embryonic deaths and deformities, and occasional deaths of adults.