Resource Management

Rusy, orange and golden colors of the prairie in autumn

 To help plants and wildlife, Refuge staff uses a variety of habitat management techniques to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife values. Refuge biologists carefully consider any management techniques and employ them when necessary depending on the situation. At this point, much of the resource management is prairie restoration.

Prairie restoration


Prior to European settlement, most of the area that is now the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge was short or mixed grass prairie, depending on the soil. Post settlement, much of the land was converted to farming or grazing. Shortly after the United States entered WWII, the U.S. Army took control of the land to build a chemical weapons manufacturing facility. The land around the facility was left untouched for several years until the Army planted crested wheatgrass, a non-native grass species that is perfectly suited to the climate here.

Fast forwarding to the cleanup, thousands of acres of land were disturbed through the remediation process and many more were left in a decadent state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spent many years, with many more to go, to restore the land to as close to its native condition as possible. 

This process starts with non-native plant control. Ideally, an area to be restored would be burned to remove all of the dead and decaying plant material. Then herbicide is sprayed to kill all of the remaining vegetation. The area is then plowed to help bury most of the weed seed that may be in the top layer of soil. Disking and spraying is conducted throughout the first growing season to keep the weedy vegetation down. At the beginning of the second growing season, a cover crop such as sorghum is planted to keep the soil in place and help replace the organic matter in the soil. Not all of these techniques are implemented on all of the sites. The techniques used vary based on the condition of the site.

That fall or early the next spring, a native prairie seed mix is planted that is designed to promote healthy wildlife populations. If practical, the site will be irrigated to help get it started. The site is then monitored so that problems can be identified and then corrected before they become too large. Site maintenance can consist of mowing, herbicide application, bison grazing or prescribed fire. In the end, the prairie landscape should be similar to what the settlers saw more than a hundred years ago.