Management and Conservation

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge achieves its goal of conserving wildlife by managing wildlife habitat. Refuge managers and biologists make concerted efforts to restore, enhance, and protect habitat types against the ever changing conditions found on the Refuge.

In the late 1960s the Refuge built a dike through the estuary to create two areas of impounded water in an effort to control mosquito populations. For many years, the water level was kept high during the mosquito breeding season in an attempt to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs on the exposed mud flats. Unfortunately, this also degraded the overall health of the habitat in the impoundments and reduced their usefulness for all wildlife.

Today, the water levels follow the natural tidal fluctuations. The water levels in the impoundments are artificially lowered only to coincide with the spring and fall shorebird migrations in order to provide optimal feeding habitat for the hundreds of birds that use the Refuge as a refueling area.    

Exotic plants can quickly invade Refuge lands and out-compete native plants, degrading habitat necessary for wildlife. To combat the invasion, the Refuge staff chemically and mechanically treats hundreds of acres of non-native plants, such as Brazilian Pepper and Australian Pine.       

Prescribed fires are used to maintain a variety of plant communities, mimic natural fire cycles, and reduce devastating fire conditions. Controlled fire help wildlife by enhancing new plant growth, eliminating thick undergrowth, and controlling non-native plants.            

Scientists from the Refuge and partner organizations study wildlife populations and habitat conditions to ensure management and public use actions benefit a healthy ecosystem. 

Law Enforcement

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System Law Enforcement program is:

"Through education and enforcement we protect our employees, volunteers, and visitors; safeguard the public’s investment in facilities and equipment; and protect the integrity of the habitat and the wildlife resources of the National trust resource which is the 150 million acre National Wildlife Refuge System.”

Laws and Regulations

The Wildlife Drive and trails are open from sunrise to sunset with an entrance pass or fee. Federal Passes are available at the Fee Booth, Nature Store and Tarpon Bay Explorers.

The Refuge is open for nature photography, wildlife observation, fishing, environmental education and interpretation. To protect the natural resources of the Refuge and to provide all visitors with a safe and enjoyable wildlife experience, please observe all Refuge signs and regulations in handouts and brochures.