Resource Management

Collection Ditch and Water Control Structure

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge contains a natural, spring-fed, freshwater marsh that supports hundreds of bird, mammal, amphibian, reptile, insect, and plant species.  The Refuge is a virtual oasis in the harsh, dry, Great Basin high desert.  Refuge management uses a variety of techniques, carefully applied, to support the habitat requirements of the many species that depend on this unique ecosystem.

  • Water Management

    Water control structure in winter

    A variety of waterfowl and shorebird species enjoy a diversity of marsh habitats.  Shallow waters attract a variety of wading birds and numerous dabblling ducks while deeper waters are used by diving ducks, geese, and swans.  Natural fluctuations in water levels caused by seasonal differences in snowpack, rainfall, and evaporation provide a wide variety of habitat conditions from which the birds may choose.  The northern portion of the Refuge also contains a spring-fed ditch, several dikes, and water control structures which can be used by managers to manipulate water in a few specific areas, or units.  Water may be gradually drawn-down in a unit during summer to expose mudflats attractive to wading birds and to allow vegetation to sprout and produce nutritious seeds.  During the fall waterfowl migration, the unit can be re-flooded to provide excellent foraging for thousands of ducks and geese.

  • Fire

    Prescribed fire

    Fire is a natural process that can benefit wildlife by improving habitat quality by removing dead, matted vegetation and recycling nutrients.  Prescribed fires are used to stimulate a vigorous regrowth of healthy, nutritious plants that provide better food and cover for wildlife. Uncontrolled wildfires, however, can cause significant natural resource damage.  Sagebrush stands are critically important to many of our wildlife species and these stands are particularly vulnerable to fire because sagebrush does not re-sprout after being burned.  Invasion of non-native plants such as cheatgrass and the resulting build-up of highly flammable vegetation make sagebrush communities even more vulnerable to fire.  Refuge staff aggressively controls wildfires in the area with the assistance of the Ruby Valley Volunteer Fire Department and other government agencies.  Prescribed, or planned, fire is applied to dense marsh and grassland habitats after nesting season if monitoring indicates that habitat quality has significantly declined.  Grazing, rather than fire, is periodically applied to sagebrush stands to protect these valuable habitats.

  • Grazing

    Cattle on the refuge

    Livestock grazing is another tool used to enhance wildlife habitat.  Grazing is used to rejuvenate areas of stagnant vegetation and stimulate plant regrowth in areas where fire is inappropriate, such as sagebrush stands and adjacent areas.  Grazing is prescribed so that a specified amount of vegetation, or forage, is removed from a given area during a specific time period.  A few areas are grazed almost every year to provide low-cropped vegetation adjacent to freshwater marsh, a habitat favored by Long-billed Curlews, Sandhill Cranes, and Canada Geese.

  • Monitoring

    Frog surveying by YCC crew 2010 (9)

    The value of the Refuge to wildlife and the effects of management actions are measured by monitoring the health of wildlife populations and vegetation.  Migratory birds, particularly ducks, geese, and swans, are counted in all four seasons to evaluate their use of specific areas and reproductive output.  Greater Sage-Grouse numbers are monitored in spring while the males are displaying on “leks” to attract females.  Refuge staff participates in the nationwide Breeding Bird Survey in summer and the Christmas Bird Count in winter to monitor populations of all bird species in the area.  Vegetation surveys are conducted in summer to evaluate habitat quality following prescribed burns and grazing, and to determine which areas may require management action.  Monitoring provides feedback in an adaptive management approach to improving habitat quality and the benefits provided to wildlife.

  • Fencing and Road Maintenance

    Fence removal by YCC crew 2010 (13)

    Fencing is used to manage prescribed livestock grazing on the Refuge and to prevent unwanted intrusion of feral livestock and wild horses.  Gravel roads on the Refuge, primarily situated on top of dikes, are maintained by mowing shoulders and grading when necessary.  Most of these roads are open to the public to allow enjoyment of the Refuge through wildlife viewing and fishing, while other roads lead to specified areas for boat access.

  • Invasive Weed Control

    Invasive weed control by YCC 2013

    Non-native, invasive weeds are a problem worldwide and cost billions of dollars in control efforts each year.  Invasive weeds are those plant species that spread rapidly and degrade wildlife habitat, reduce quality grazing forage, or cause problems for humans in the garden, home landscape, or agricultural fields.  Cheatgrass is an invasive weed that greatly increases the intensity and frequency of wildfire in sagebrush ecosystems.  Tamarisk (aka Saltcedar), Perennial Pepperweed, Phragmites, and Russian Olive are examples of other invasive plant species occurring in Ruby Valley.  The Refuge uses an Integrated Pest Management program to control invasive weeds that includes a combination of mechanical methods, such as mowing or discing, prescribed fire, and chemical herbicides.

  • Restoration Projects

    Log cabin restoration

    In some situations, standard resource management actions are not enough to accomplish goals.  Intensive efforts are sometimes needed to protect imperiled species or cultural resources.  The Relict Dace Project is an example of an intensive effort to protect a rare fish species by restoring and expanding suitable habitat and increasing fish numbers.  The Relict Dace is the only fish species native to the Refuge and naturally occurs in small, isolated populations in five valleys of northeastern Nevada.  Natural populations occur in Ruby, Steptoe, Goshute, and Butte Valley while an introduced population persists in Spring Valley. The Fort Ruby Project involves the restoration of historical structures and the development of an interpretive trail at the former site of a U.S. Army Depot.  Fort Ruby was established to protect the nearby Pony Express station and travelers moving westward on the Overland Trail.  Fort Ruby had the reputation of being one of the most desolate and unforgiving posts in the west.


    Learn more about the Relict Dace Project

    Learn more about Fort Ruby Project

  • 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.  

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