What We Do

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge contains a natural, spring-fed, freshwater marsh that supports hundreds of bird, mammal, amphibian, reptile, insect, and plant species. The refuge is a virtual oasis in the harsh, dry, Great Basin high desert. Refuge management uses a variety of techniques, carefully applied, to support the habitat requirements of the many species that depend on this unique ecosystem.

Management and Conservation

Water Management

A variety of waterfowl and shorebird species enjoy a diversity of marsh habitats. Shallow waters attract a variety of wading birds and numerous dabbling ducks while deeper waters are used by diving ducks, geese, and swans. Natural fluctuations in water levels caused by seasonal differences in snowpack, rainfall, and evaporation provide a wide variety of habitat conditions from which the birds may choose. The northern portion of the refuge also contains a spring-fed ditch, several dikes, and water control structures which can be used by managers to manipulate water in a few specific areas, or units. Water may be gradually drawn-down in a unit during summer to expose mudflats attractive to wading birds and to allow vegetation to sprout and produce nutritious seeds.  During the fall waterfowl migration, the unit can be re-flooded to provide excellent foraging for thousands of ducks and geese.


Fire is a natural process that can benefit wildlife by improving habitat quality by removing dead, matted vegetation and recycling nutrients. Prescribed fires are used to stimulate a vigorous regrowth of healthy, nutritious plants that provide better food and cover for wildlife. Uncontrolled wildfires, however, can cause significant natural resource damage. Sagebrush stands are critically important to many of our wildlife species and these stands are particularly vulnerable to fire because sagebrush sagebrush
The western United States’ sagebrush country encompasses over 175 million acres of public and private lands. The sagebrush landscape provides many benefits to our rural economies and communities, and it serves as crucial habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including the iconic greater sage-grouse and over 350 other species.

Learn more about sagebrush
does not re-sprout after being burned. Invasion of non-native plants such as cheat grass and the resulting build-up of highly flammable vegetation make sagebrush communities even more vulnerable to fire. Refuge staff aggressively controls wildfires in the area with the assistance of the Ruby Valley Volunteer Fire Department and other government agencies. Prescribed, or planned, fire is applied to dense marsh and grassland habitats after nesting season if monitoring indicates that habitat quality has significantly declined. 


The value of the refuge to wildlife and the effects of management actions are measured by monitoring the health of wildlife populations and vegetation. Migratory birds, particularly ducks, geese, and swans, are counted in all four seasons to evaluate their use of specific areas and reproductive output. Greater sage-grouse numbers are monitored in spring while the males are displaying on “leks” to attract females. Refuge staff participates in the nationwide breeding bird survey in summer and the Christmas bird count in winter to monitor populations of all bird species in the area. Vegetation surveys are conducted in summer to evaluate habitat quality following prescribed burns and to determine which areas may require management action. Monitoring provides feedback in an adaptive management approach to improving habitat quality and the benefits provided to wildlife.

Fencing and Road Maintenance

Fencing is used to prevent unwanted intrusion of feral livestock and horses. Gravel roads on the refuge, primarily situated on top of dikes, are maintained by mowing shoulders and grading when necessary. Most of these roads are open to the public to allow enjoyment of the refuge through wildlife viewing and fishing, while other roads lead to specified areas for boat access.

Invasive Weed Control

Non-native, invasive weeds are a problem worldwide and cost billions of dollars in control efforts each year. Invasive weeds are those plant species that spread rapidly and degrade wildlife habitat, reduce quality grazing forage, or cause problems for humans in the garden, home landscape, or agricultural fields. Cheat grass is an invasive weed that greatly increases the intensity and frequency of wildfire in sagebrush ecosystems. Tamarisk (aka salt cedar), perennial pepperweed, phragmites, and Russian olive are examples of other invasive plant species occurring in Ruby Valley. The refuge uses an integrated pest management program to control invasive weeds that includes a combination of mechanical methods, such as mowing or disking, prescribed fire, and chemical herbicides.

Restoration Projects

In some situations, standard resource management actions are not enough to accomplish goals. Intensive efforts are sometimes needed to protect imperiled species or cultural resources. The Relict Dace Project is an example of an intensive effort to protect a rare fish species by restoring and expanding suitable habitat and increasing fish numbers. The relict dace is the only fish species native to the refuge and naturally occurs in small, isolated populations in five valleys of northeastern Nevada. Natural populations occur in Ruby, Steptoe, Goshute, and Butte Valley while an introduced population persists in Spring Valley. The Fort Ruby Project involves the restoration of historical structures and the development of an interpretive trail at the former site of a U.S. Army depot. Fort Ruby was established to protect the nearby Pony Express station and travelers moving westward on the Overland Trail. Fort Ruby had the reputation of being one of the most desolate and unforgiving posts in the west.

Refuge Planning 

National Wildlife Refuge planning sets the broad vision for refuge management and the goals, objectives, strategies, and actions required to achieve it. Planning ensures that each refuge meets its individual purposes, contributes to the Refuge System’s mission and priorities, is consistent with other applicable laws and policies, and enhances conservation benefits beyond refuge boundaries. 

Comprehensive Conservation Plans 

Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) are the primary planning documents for National Wildlife Refuges. As outlined in the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is required to develop CCPs that guide refuge management for the next 15 years. CCPs articulate the Service’s contributions to meeting refuge purposes and the National Wildlife Refuge System mission. CCPs serve as a bridge between broad, landscape-level plans developed by other agencies and stakeholders and the more detailed step-downs that stem from Refuge CCPs.  

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is in development.

Step-down Plans 

CCP step-down plans guide refuge-level programs for: (1) conserving natural resources (e.g., fish, wildlife, plants, and the ecosystems they depend on for habitat); (2) stewarding other special values of the refuge (e.g., cultural or archeological resources, wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, etc.); and (3) engaging visitors and the community in conservation, including providing opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation. Like CCPs, step-down plans contribute to the implementation of relevant landscape plans by developing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives, strategies, implementation schedules, and decision support tools to fulfill refuge visions and goals. This ensures that refuges are managed in a landscape context and that conservation benefits extend beyond refuge boundaries.