What We Do

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the refuge system and drives everything we do from the establishment of the refuge, to the recreational activities we offer, to the resource management tools we deploy. Utilizing the right management tools helps us ensure the survival of local plants and animals and helps fulfill the purposes of the refuge.

Management and Conservation

The refuge uses a wide range of land management tools based on the best science available. The management methods and tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. 

Our Projects and Research

The Service manages fish and wildlife habitats considering the needs of all resources in decision-making. A requirement of the Refuge Improvement Act is to maintain the ecological health, diversity, and integrity of refuges. The following scientific areas of interest are not inclusive; they are but a sampling of the refuge's current efforts:

Erosion of Islands

Erosion of islands and banks, and sedimentation and siltation of shallow water embayment areas (specifically) and the river (in general) adversely affect water quality and the general bottom habitat conditions for mussels and other benthic invertebrates and fish populations. Sand and gravel dredging also physically impact island stability, and could damage all culturally important islands.

Invasive Species

The introduction and spread of invasive plants and aquatic species on Refuge lands and in the Ohio River threaten native riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
vegetation and freshwater mussel species. Among the most recognized of these nuisance exotics are the plants "Japanese knotweed" and "mile-a-minute" as well as the zebra mussel. Invasive species cost our Nation's economy an estimated $123 billion annually and are second only to habitat destruction in threatening extinction of native species. 

Mussel Recovery

Mollusks on the Refuge include freshwater mussels (the most diverse group), aquatic snails, and terrestrial snails. There are currently 50 species of freshwater mussels remaining in the Ohio River today, and 38 of these have been collected on the Refuge so far (Appendix D). Historically, there were upwards of 80 species in the free-flowing Ohio River, but habitat changes over the past 100 years have resulted in the extinction of at least 3 species, and the extirpation of many more. In addition to the habitat and water quality problems which mussels have faced, add the new threat caused by the invasion of the exotic zebra mussel. Zebra mussels first entered the Refuge in 1993, and since that time, their density has exploded to 13,000 animals per square meter. Zebra mussels compete with native mussels for food and oxygen, interfere with their reproduction, and encrust native mussels so heavily that the native mussels cannot open and close their shell, burrow, or move effectively. It's easy to see why freshwater mussels are the most imperiled group of animals on the Refuge.

Every Refuge island has been surveyed at least once, and each one has some mussel fauna associated with the underwater habitat surrounding it. At least two federally endangered mussels occur on the Refuge (pink mucket and fanshell) in the Belleville, Racine, RC Byrd, and Greenup pools. The most diverse mussel bed is found at Muskingum Island, with 28 species and an average density of 12 live mussels per square meter. Mussels generally require clean-swept sand, gravel, cobble and boulder habitat, and well oxygenated and nutrient rich waters. These habitats are abundant around the islands.

Commercial harvest of mussels (primarily for the cultured pearl industry) is generally permitted in Kentucky waters, but not in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio or West Virginia. However, there are sanctuaries in place adjacent to the Kentucky Refuge islands which prohibit commercial harvest from those areas.

Law Enforcement

Report all violations to the law enforcement office

24 hr mobile: 304-834-0449

Non-emergency office #: 304-375-2923 x 113

WHO: Description of the suspect, suspect vehicle

WHAT: what is the violation?

WHERE: Where did the violation occur?

WHEN: When did the violation occur?

HOW: How did the violation occur?

All reports are STRICTLY confidential because we need your help.

Law enforcement is an integral part of managing the National Wildlife Refuge System. Refuge law enforcement officers are responsible for upholding federal laws and regulations that protect natural resources, the public, and employees. These are our objectives:

  • To protect refuge visitors and employees from disturbance or harm by others.
  • To assist visitors in understanding refuge laws, regulations, and the reasons for them.
  • To enhance the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources on refuges.
  • To ensure the legally prescribed, equitable use of fish and wildlife resources on refuges.
  • To obtain compliance with laws and regulations necessary for the proper administration, management, and protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Laws and Regulations

Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge protects, restores, and manages habitats for a diversity of wildlife species. There is a wide range of laws and regulations that guide our activities to maintain our mission and purpose. Other regulations are in place to ensure visitor opportunities will not have negative impacts on the habitats and wildlife we are here to protect.