Resource Management

Resource Managment

Grasslands are managed with emphasis on providing optimum nesting cover for upland-nesting waterfowl. Water management on the refuge is limited by irregular flows in the James River. Spring flows allow the filling of Mud Lake and Sand Lake to full pool levels by early May. Summer drawdowns are scheduled when needed to re-establish emergent vegetation within the pools.

Upland habitat management is geared toward providing tall and dense nesting cover on a high percentage of uplands for nesting birds, especially waterfowl.  Rejuvenation of decadent grasslands and the control of invasive plant species are accomplished through an active management program of grazing, prescribed burning, haying, farming, reseeding, invasive plant control, and habitat monitoring.  Grasslands are categorized as dense nesting cover (DNC), introduced cool season grasses, and seeded native grasses.  Vegetative structure differs greatly between the three habitat types resulting in different management objectives.    

The grassland vegetation of the northern Great Plains evolved under periodic disturbance and defoliation from bison and fire.  This periodic disturbance is what made the prairie healthy and a place of enormous diversity for thousands of years.  Fire in grassland ecosystems is essential for maintaining healthy vegetation in grasslands, wetlands, and some woodlands for wildlife habitat.  Refuge staff conduct prescribed fire management treatments on selected units of the refuge replicating historic wildfire events that benefit prairie landscapes.  Domestic cattle are used in prescribed grazing treatments on selected refuge units to also improve grasslands, control invasive species and increase plant diversity.     

Wetland management is largely dependent on flows of the James River.  High springtime flows generally result in adequate filling of Mud Lake and Sand Lake and these pools can be maintained at a full pool elevation.  Periodic drawdowns are very beneficial to wetland management and are attempted when lower flows permit.   The refuge has large concentrations of over water nesting species such as Franklin’s gulls, White-faced ibis, black-crowned night heron, eared grebe, western grebe and Forster’s terns.      

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