Resource Management


Maintaining healthy wildlife populations and conserving and enhancing wetland habitats are the main goals of the refuge's management program. These goals are accomplished primarily through water management, restoration, farming, and prescribed burning.

Maintaining healthy wildlife populations and conserving and enhancing wetland habitats are the main goals of the refuge's management program. These goals are accomplished primarily through water management, farming, and prescribed burning. 

Hydrology Restoration
Previous owners of the lands that now make up the refuge installed ditches and canals to farm and harvest timber in the area.  About a third of the Refuge was heavily ditched and drained.  In these highly altered areas, the Refuge is reestablishing more natural hydrologic conditions by using dikes and water control structures to stop the artificial drainage of water from the soil in order to restore the pocosin wetlands.  There is lots to learn about hydrology restoration on Pocosin Lakes Refuge.

Water Management 
Managing water is an essential component of managing the pocosin and other habitats used by migratory birds and other wildlife on the Refuge.  Managing water is also essential for reducing the risk and intensity of wild fire in the pocosin.  Rainfall is the only source of water for much of the pocosin wetlands on the Refuge.  Most of the rainwater leaves the pocosin via evapotranspiration (ET; evaporation and water uptake by trees and other vegetation) and drainage.  Since we can't control rainfall and ET, our water management in our Hydrology Restoration Areas <link to Hydrology Restoration page> involves controlling how much rain water drains out.  Our goal is to stop the artificial drainage of water from the peat soil by using dikes and water control structures.

We also carefully control drainage on the Pungo Unit to manage habitat for wintering waterfowl.  But here, we also have some water draining in from other lands that we can use and we have wells on two of our moist soil management units that provide an additional, albeit expensive, water source when mother nature doesn't provide us with enough rainfall when we need it. 
Forest Management and Reforestation
Forest management and reforestation are important strategies for the habitats on Pocosin Lakes NWR.  Reforestation is a tool necessary in areas where logging has been conducted and in areas where wildfire has caused severe destruction.  Dr. Eric Hinesley drafted a forest management plan for Pocosin Lakes NWR in 1999.  Active forest management is necessary to maintain certain habitats that will be lost through natural succession such as Atlantic white cedar (AWC) habitat and canebrake.  Though the interference may seem contrary to allowing natural processes to occur, it is necessary in this area to protect these two habitats that have become scarce due to logging and development.  
The 2008 Evan’s Road Wildfire resulted in over 25,000 acres burned on the Refuge.  Within the footprint of the Evans Road Fire are suitable sites for reestablishing AWC, cypress and - if regeneration is not occurring - pond pine.  AWC habitat is sensitive to numerous environmental factors making restoration complicated.  Certain common characteristics seem to take priority including fire intensity and frequency, peat depth, wind throw and high water tables.  
Relying on wildfires for forest management is risky and unreliable management policy.  Results from unmanaged regeneration are often unpredictable, for instance conversion to hardwood swamps rather than AWC can occur.  Where possible, disturbance must be carefully managed or controlled in order to encourage, not deter, cedar regeneration.
Wood Duck Management
One of the purposes of Pocosin Lakes NWR is to provide optimum wintering habitat on the Pungo Unit for migratory wintering waterfowl and breeding habitat for wood ducks in conjunction with other refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.  A variety of habitats are managed on the Refuge for wintering migratory waterfowl and breeding wood ducks.  These habitat types include open water, moist soil, cooperative farmlands, flooded wetlands, and wood duck nest boxes.   
Wood ducks nest in large trees with cavities in or adjacent to flooded habitats.  The majority of these cavity trees have been lost from the Refuge due to timber harvest prior to Refuge ownership and catastrophic wildfires.  Wood duck nest boxes have been used on the Refuge to supplement the shortage of natural cavity trees.  On rare occasions, hooded mergansers have also been observed nesting in the boxes.  Other species that use the boxes include screech owls, great-crested flycatchers and invasive European starlings.  
Fire Management 
A large portion of the refuge was ditched and drained, then cleared to support farming. The altered state of the soils made the lands more susceptible to disastrous wildfires during periods of hot, dry weather. The refuge staff and its cooperators work quickly to suppress wildfires to prevent them from growing into large, catastrophic fires like ones seen in past years. The fire management program has also enhanced habitat through prescribed burning of selected areas.
While fire during time of drought can damage the organic soils of the pocosin, fire is a very useful tool for habitat management when used under appropriate weather conditions. Fire will release nutrients back into the soil, remove undesirable vegetation, and stimulate growth of early successional plants that are eaten by a variety of wildlife. It also serves as a tool to prevent large wildfires from occurring. Once a prescribed burn has occurred, the fuels from the land will have burned and will not burn again, or will not burn as intensely compared to lands that were not burned.
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge has an existing Fire Management Plan with prescriptions for where and how to manage Refuge resources through the use of prescribed fire.  In addition, it explains in detail the wildfire history on the Refuge. During the last 25 years, the Refuge has experienced two catastrophic wildfires and deep ground fires due to drought conditions and artificially drier organic soils from drainage practices prior to refuge establishment.  Management practices historically were designed to drain the land through a network of drainage ditches and canals.  The resulting drier peat soils were highly susceptible to fire.
The first catastrophic fire was the 1985 Allen Road Fire that burned over 100,000 acres and, in some areas, over three feet of peat soil was consumed.  The second fire was the 2008 Evans Road Wildfire.  This fire burned over 42,000 acres including 28,700 acres of Refuge land.  The areas with drier peat conditions located on adjacent private land experienced severe ground fire resulting in losses of over five feet of peat.  The Refuge experienced less severe ground fire than on adjacent drained private lands due to wetter peat conditions from the ongoing, but not yet complete, hydrology restoration work. Most of the infrastructure for the hydrology restoration was installed by 2010.  
Prescribed burning in forest management is a widely used tool.  The habitats of the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula depend on fire in a number of ways.  Some pine trees rely on fire to trigger seed release.  Fire controls proliferation of understory and hardwoods allowing habitats such as Atlantic white cedar to continue to exist.  With increased human habitation and modification of the landscape, wildfires cause severe destruction and cannot be allowed to perform the habitat functions that they did historically.  Therefore, controlled, prescribed fires are the means by which forest managers incorporate fire as a management tool while containing and controlling the negative impacts.  
Cooperative Farming
The Refuge currently manages 1,250 acres of cropland through cooperative farming agreements with local farmers.  Farmers plant these farmlands under Cooperative Farming Agreements with the Refuge.  The typical crop rotation includes corn, soybean and winter wheat as a cover crop.  Typically, 20% of the total acreage farmed is left in the field as food for wildlife.  The result is 250 acres of standing corn and 200 acres of winter wheat for wintering waterfowl.    Flocks of over 100,000 swans and geese forage in the Refuge farm fields.    
Control of Invasive Species
Invasive and non-native plant and animal species are real and severe threats to species and habitats on the Refuge.  Animal species including nutria, feral hogs, European starlings, white-tailed deer and bear can be destructive factors due to their presence, sheer numbers or competition with native or imperiled animals.  
Phragmites, alligatorweed and Sesbania are the most dominant pest plants on the refuge, but others such as Japanese stiltgrass, Chinese privet, Florida betony and Japanese honeysuckle are highly visible.  The lake margins of Pungo Lake have great potential for producing high quality waterfowl food plants, but encroaching common reed (Phragmites australis) is a continual challenge in the areas.  Phragmites is a persistent and quickly spreading nuisance that out-competes native marsh plant species.  Alligatorweed infiltrates canals and waterways blocking water flow and creating problems for water management.  
Control and eradication measures include mechanical removal of the plants or treatment with herbicides.  Repeated efforts are required and early detection is essential in making progress toward eradication.  
Treatment of Sesbania with glyphosate herbicide began during the fall of 2000 and continued through 2010.  The presence of this plant will requires continued early detection and rapid response with herbicides and mechanical removal to manage it’s distribution at a tolerable threshold.
The North Carolina Division of Plant Industry and the USDA Forest Service closely monitors gypsy moth populations.  They utilize pheromone traps located throughout the State, including on Refuge lands.  When they detect large-scale outbreaks, they use integrated pest management techniques to suppress the outbreak, but not necessarily eliminate the species from the area.  The staff deploys up to five pheromone-gypsy moth traps at high public use areas across the Refuge to monitor the spread of gypsy moths.  
An additional threat of significance is southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which is most likely to attack older, mature stands with less vigor than younger stands.  Land managers treat infected stands by cutting down a swath of trees around the area where the beetles are actively feeding, thus removing their food and starving them.  The best insurance against potential losses due to pine beetle infestation is to keep pine forests good health through thinning and other management practices.  
Nutria, beavers and feral hogs are very destructive to plant communities on the Refuge and can interfere with water management.  Mechanical control measures such as trapping and hunting are possible measures for controlling or eradicating these animals.  

Trapping Occurs on this Refuge

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 on trapping within the National Wildlife Refuge System.


To watch a video from the August 17, 2021, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges Stakeholder Informational Meeting 3, click on this link