Seasonally Flooded Wet Meadow

Seasonally Flooded Meadow use by Canada Geese

The most highly managed habitat on the refuge; meadows are critical for early arriving waterfowl and important habitat for greater sandhill cranes and other birds.


Meadows are influenced by water depths and the timing of irrigation. On the Refuge, they are seasonally flooded and managed artificially by irrigation. The largest areas of meadow habitats are located in the southern Blitzen Valley, where much of the valley is flat and water supplies are more dependable. Meadows in the northern half of the Blitzen Valley and in the Double-O Unit tend to be drier and less extensive; however, they are widely dispersed throughout these managed units of the Refuge. The Blitzen Valley and Double-O currently supports approximately 20,000 to 25,000 acres of meadow habitats. Water conditions in meadows range from subirrigated up to 1 foot in depth. Drier sites are typically dominated by creeping wildrye or saltgrass, while wetter areas tend to be dominated by sedges such as woolly sedge, Nebraska sedge, and slender-beaked sedge. Other native species include Baltic rush, arrow-grass, Nevada bluegrass, western yarrow, slender cinquefoil, large-leafed avens, and fringed willow-herb.

The primary importance of meadows is to provide nesting cover for ground-nesting birds. Cover provided by drier meadow sites serves nesting cinnamon teal, northern shovelers and northern pintail. Short vegetation in meadows provides habitat for nesting bobolinks and shorebirds, such as Wilson’s snipe, Wilson’s phalarope, American avocets, and black-necked stilts. Other nesting species are numerous (e.g., mallard, gadwall, short-eared owl, western meadowlark, long-billed curlew). Meadows also serve as foraging sites for territorial greater sandhill cranes, Canada geese, waterfowl, white-faced ibises, and other waterbirds. Meadows support large numbers of montane voles and other small mammals, which are important prey for raptors and mammalian predators (e.g., weasels and coyotes). Deer, pronghorn, and occasionally elk graze in refuge meadow habitats.

During spring irrigation, wet meadows are sheet flooded (subirrigated to 5 inches of standing water). To provide habitat for breeding greater sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and early nesting mallards, irrigation begins by March 15 for a majority of wet meadow habitat. Fall irrigation of some meadow areas may be desirable to achieve other habitat goals. Irrigation water is maintained in meadows through early August for crane broods, except when drawdowns are necessary to repair facilities or accomplish other habitat management projects (e.g., mowing).

Meadows are managed to provide two habitat structure objectives: to provide dense nesting cover for ground-nesting birds, and to provide short stubble for early green-up as forage for early nesting birds such as waterfowl and cranes, and as short-cover nesting sites for shorebirds. To achieve the second objective, meadows are treated by mowing the vegetation in late summer and removing it as hay or through rake-bunch grazing.