What We Do

Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using science, the staff that work on national wildlife refuges  manages Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species. 

Management of Fort Niobrara Refuge focuses on conserving native birds, bison, and the biological diversity of the area. To help plants and wildlife, Refuge staff use a variety of habitat management tools to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife values. Some tools include scientific monitoring of habitats and wildlife, bison grazing, prescribed fire, and periods of "rest", or non-disturbance. Information obtained is used to make decisions to maintain and improve habitat conditions to provide for the diverse array of plants and animals that live on the Refuge and surrounding area. For more information, please visit our "Management and Conservation" page to learn more. 

Refuge staff routinely partner with state agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations to complete projects. These partnerships typically benefit habitats, facilities, recreational opportunities, higher education, and the local economy. From its start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has owed its very existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. The Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association is a Friends Group established to support the refuges of the Fort Niobrara/Valentine Refuge Complex. We welcome volunteers!

Fort Niobrara Refuge also provides numerous recreational activities that immerse people in nature! Enjoy, kayaking, hiking, hunting, fishing and bird watching. Please see our "Visit Us" page for detailed information.  

Management and Conservation

Resource Management

Fort Niobrara Refuge management includes many diverse techniques. Through the grassland and fence management program, bison are managed to assure a genetically sound breeding population, provide viewing opportunities for public enjoyment, and support scientific studies. Bison are an ideal management “tool” because they range over large areas, eat and trample a variety of prairie plants, and turn the soil with their wallowing. This disturbance helps keep native prairie communities diverse and healthy. Refuge lands can only support a certain number of bison. To keep the bison herd in balance with its food supply and meet the habitat requirements of other wildlife, a herd of approximately 350 bison are maintained at the Refuge. Each fall, bison are rounded up and counted. If an excess of 350 bison occurs, some are transferred. The fall bison roundup is open to public viewing. Call the Refuge office at 402-376-3789, or email fortniobrara@fws.gov for planned dates/times. 

Grassland habitat management strategies are designed to maintain or improve grassland health. Approximately 50 miles of interior fence and 50 miles of boundary fence (perimeter, river corridor, and road right-of-way) are used to control timing of grazing and movement of bison. In addition, prescribed fire plays a significant role in the management of these native grasslands. Prescribed fire and periods of rest are used in combination with grazing by bison in an effort to mimic the historic grazing patterns that helped shape the native plant communities of the Refuge.

Other habitat management strives to maintain the existing diversity and abundance of various native birds and other wildlife by providing a mosaic of habitat conditions. Biological monitoring of native birds and other wildlife is carried out to the greatest extent possible with current staffing and management priorities.

Public involvement and input are important to us and to the planning process, and we hope you will take an active interest in the process, individually and as a community.  


Refuge conservation plans are called “comprehensive conservation plans” (CCP). The purpose of the CCP is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving Refuge conditions, including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions, are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the Refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well. 


Refuge managers and biologists conduct scientific inventory and monitoring of the habitats and wildlife. For example, they conduct vegetation, bird, fish, insect, and wildlife surveys. It is important to know what lives on the Refuge. It is also important to know what types of plants and animals historically used the Refuge. The information they obtain is used to make decisions in how to best maintain or improve habitat conditions to provide for the diverse array of plants and animals that live on the Refuge and surrounding area.

Our Projects and Research



Inventory and monitoring projects are done to help further Refuge purposes; inform management of biological diversity and environmental health; and federally threatened and endangered species.

Surveys or research done by Refuge staff or partners in recent years include:

  • Inventory and mapping of native plant communities
  • Condition and health of native grasslands as measured by plant composition and structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

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  • Invasive plant distribution and abundance
  • Prairie grouse abundance
  • Breeding bird species occurrence and abundance
  • Bison health and abundance
  • Bison genetics
  • Elk health, abundance, and movements
  • Mountain lion distribution and abundance
  • Northern long-eared bat winter hibernacula
  • White-nose syndrome surveillance in bats
  • Bat species composition and abundance (NAbat)
  • American burying beetle distribution and abundance
  • Streamflow and water quality of the Niobrara River and tributary streams
  • Wilderness character 

Law Enforcement

Federal Wildlife Officers play a critical role in protecting wildlife and habitat as well as the visiting public. 

The Mission of the Office of Law Enforcement "is to protect wildlife and plant resources. Through the effective enforcement of Federal laws, we contribute to Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to recover endangered species, conserve migratory birds, preserve wildlife habitat, safeguard fisheries, combat  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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 , and promote international wildlife conservation."