What We Do

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a series of lands and waters owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the refuge system. It drives everything we do from the purpose a refuge is established, to the recreational activities offered there, to the resource management tools we use. Selecting the right tools helps us ensure the survival of the nation’s wildlife resources and conserving the natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Management and Conservation

Refuges use a wide range of land management tools based on the best science available. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. Here at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, our conservation toolbox includes wilderness monitoring, water manipulation, prescribed fire, invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

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control, mechanical, and chemical control.  

Wilderness Character Monitoring

A designated wilderness area wilderness area
Wilderness areas are places untamed by humans. The Wilderness Act of 1964 allows Congress to designate wilderness areas for protection to ensure that America's pristine wild lands will not disappear. Wilderness areas can be part of national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests or public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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refers to qualities that characterize an area that is untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, and provides solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation. Untrammeled, natural, and undeveloped qualities mean places that do not have human interference within the wilderness area. Human interferences include structures, buildings, developments, vehicles, or roads. Undeniably, the cherished quality that makes a wilderness area unique is the solitude and the vastness of nature that makes it primitive. Collectively, these qualities and their attributes determine the overall character of the wilderness area, helping to justify their distinction. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge monitors the Salt Creek Wilderness Area, 9,621 acres within an overall 12,269 acres on the North Tract.  

Water Manipulation

Managing water levels is an important management tool utilized at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Wetlands function naturally as a cycle: wet in the fall, winter, and spring, and dry in the summer; and the cycle repeats. Wetlands and moist soil units are shallowly flooded in the fall and winter to provide migratory ducks, sandhill cranes, snow geese, and shorebirds with roosting and feeding areas. In the spring, water is slowly drawn down through draining back to the Pecos River, or percolating back in the ground to the groundwater, or through summer evaporation to expose mudflats. The salt flats, a dry white crusty layer left behind from the gypsum deposits from the aquifer, exposed during spring and summer provide an important nesting and feeding areas for snowy plovers, avocets, and least terns. This drawdown process also allows for wetland plants, such as pickleweed, alkali saltgrass, and the threatened Pecos sunflower, to grow and provide food for the upcoming fall migration. Wetlands are occasionally flooded through the groundwater for short periods in the summer to irrigate vegetation and provide a supply of food available for migratory birds as they arrive in the fall. Add water in the fall and watch the marvel of migration that captivates us all. Through flooding the wetland units the refuge provides 817,648 duck-use days (from October through March), 641,599 crane-use days (from September through April), and 1.2 million goose-use days. 

Prescribed Fire

Effective fire management is not only important for the protection of human life and property, but it is also an essential tool for habitat management and restoration. Prescribed fire is used in the control of exotic and invasive plant species on the refuge. Controlled burns help reduce the thick dead vegetation, rejuvenate the native vegetation such as the Pecos sunflower and alkali saltgrass, and eliminate or set back invasive plants. Prescribed burns are safely performed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire personnel.  

Invasive Plants

Native trees such as cottonwoods, willows, and New Mexican olive are scarce in the Chihuahuan desert landscape except near water. Saltcedar, once used to stop erosion, historically invaded many areas on the refuge. Refuge staff use mechanical and chemical methods to remove this invasive shrub and Ravenna grass and plant native cottonwoods, willows, and New Mexican olive in key areas, which provide great roosting areas for many neotropical songbirds like the vermillion flycatcher or the painted bunting. The native trees also provide cover for the migratory monarch butterfly as it migrates to and from Mexico.  

Law Enforcement

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers have a wide variety of duties and responsibilities. Officers help visitors understand and obey wildlife protection laws. They work closely with state and local government offices to enforce federal, state and refuge hunting regulations that protect migratory birds and other game species from illegal take and preserve legitimate hunting opportunities. 

Laws and Regulations

Please consult the refuge-specific brochures that are available at the kiosks or contact the refuge office for more information. Visitors are permitted on the refuge sunrise to sunset. The refuge’s habitats are delicate ecosystems; entry into closed areas is trespassing. Help protect our wildlife heritage by observing all refuge signs and regulations. 


Refuge roads may close anytime during hazardous conditions or for maintenance purposes and will re-open as soon as possible.