What We Do

White-tailed deer peering through the trees courtesy of Teresa McGill.

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. 

Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge is managed passively. Refuge staff monitor the island for major issues and intervene when necessary, but the island largely takes care of itself. 

Management activities:

  • Invasive species management 
  • White-tailed deer hunting 

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. This helps native plants regenerate and local wildlife to thrive. Other refuges contain wilderness areas where land is largely managed passively. By using these management tools, we aim to ensure a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. At this field station our conservation toolbox includes: 

Invasive Species Management 

An 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.

Learn more about invasive species
can be any kind of life, including plants, animals and fungus, that does not normally live in the area and that spreads and becomes abundant. These species have a negative impact on their new environment. Refuge staff have identified non-native phragmites on the refuge and have been working to treat the patch and eliminate it from the island. 

White-tailed Deer Hunting 

Over time, the forests on the island seem to be changing. Non-native earthworms, climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

Learn more about climate change
and a high population of deer for the size of the islands are beginning to shift the vegetation. Deer, like consistent gardeners, browse trees and other vegetation on the island making it difficult for understory plants and new seedlings to grow and remain healthy. Little can be done about the earthworms and climate change, but we can encourage deer hunting on the island.   

People Management 

National wildlife refuges are where wildlife comes first. Every activity that people can participate in on the refuge has to be determined compatible with the reason the refuge was founded. We try to strike a balance between human users and undisturbed habitat for wildlife. 

Research, Inventorying and Monitoring 

The refuge conducts inventories of the plants and animals it encounters during its visits. It also monitors resources of concern like threatened and endangered species and species of concern.  

Learn more about the management of the refuge by reviewing the 2013 Gravel Island, Green Bay, Harbor Island, Huron and Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan, the 2015 Habitat Management Plan. You can find copies of these plans in the library.

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

The Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge welcomes visitors. We want you to enjoy your visit while keeping the refuge in pristine condition for you, future guests and the wildlife and plants that call the area home. During your visit we ask you to follow these regulations which help us ensure our mission.