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 local plants and animals and helps fulfill the purpose of the refuge. 

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is divided into three management units. The main portion of the refuge encompasses approximately 110,000 of the 117,464 acre refuge. This tract is made up Sonoran semi-desert grassland. The other two units are the Brown Canyon Unit and the Arivaca Unit, which includes Arivaca Creek and the adjacent Arivaca Cienega. An important objective of the refuge is to protect and restore these three habitat types. Management strategies focus on improving habitat for a variety of species with an emphasis on the masked bobwhite quail.  

Management and Conservation

Refuges use a wide range of land management tools based on the best science available. Some refuges use prescribed fires to mimic natural fires that would have cleared old vegetation from the land helping native plants regenerate and local wildlife to thrive. Other refuges contain Wilderness areas where land is largely managed in passively. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. At this field station our conservation toolbox includes prescribed burning, revegetation, erosion control, water preservation and fence removal. 

Prescribed Burning

Historic records indicate that this formerly open grassland was maintained by wildfires caused by lightning strikes during the summer monsoon season. The size and frequency of wildfires declined after 1882, most likely because of the changes to the landscape from human settlement. As a result, during the last century the grassland ecosystem has been invaded by mesquite trees and other shrubby vegetation. To mimic what used to occur naturally, the refuge uses prescribed burning, in conjunction with other habitat management strategies, to inhibit the growth and spread of mesquite trees and to remove small shrubs. Fires return nutrients from burned plant material into the soil to nourish new grass. Fire benefits the wildlife by restoring native grasses and stimulating the growth of important food plants. 


The refuge is attempting to control invasive and exotic plants that outcompete the native vegetation. These aggressive plants grow quickly and often have no natural predators, so they quickly outgrow the native plants. They also are of limited value to native wildlife who have typically evolved to feed on native grasses and seeds. One species of particular concern is Lehmann's lovegrass, a South African grass planted in the 1970's to control erosion. This exotic species now dominates the landscape and has been rapidly replacing native grasses. The refuge is implementing an aggressive restoration effort to protect and restore the native grasses through seeding projects. 

Erosion Control

One of the functions of the vegetation is to stabilize soil. Due to the extreme grazing and loss of the native grass cover, this grasslands landscape has lost a lot of topsoil to erosion. The refuge is partnering with local landowners to install erosion control structures throughout the entire Altar Valley in the hopes of stabilizing the banks of washes and roads. 

Water Preservation

The refuge maintains existing stock ponds that remain from when the refuge was a ranch. In addition, several new water impoundments have been constructed to catch rainwater. These sources of water are extremely important to wildlife in this dry environment. And as water tables in the Valley drop due to human consumption, they become even more important. 

Fence Removal

The refuge is removing or altering barbed wire fences left over from ranching days to allow deer and pronghorn to move freely. Many volunteers and wildlife organizations assist the refuge in many of the fence removal projects. 

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

There are a lot of fun, interesting, and educational things you can do on the refuge. Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn't help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably refuge rules governing this activity. Please check with the refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself.