What We Do

Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using conservation best practices, the Refuge System manages Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species.

Management and Conservation

To help plants and wildlife, refuge staff uses a variety of habitat management techniques to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife values.

Water Management
Savannah NWR contains approximately 6,000 acres of impounded freshwater wetlands, all former plantation rice fields, dating back to the mid or late 1700s. Approximately 3,000 acres of this land are now maintained in 17 water-controlled impoundments to provide feeding areas and sanctuary for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and other wildlife. These managed freshwater impoundments, or pools, provide wintering habitat for an average of 25,000 ducks annually. Approximately 22 species of waterfowl comprise this total. The freshwater plant community is extremely diverse, making it ideal habitat for many species of water birds such as egrets, ibis, and rails. The impoundments are also important spawning and nursery grounds for many species of fish including largemouth bass and sunfish.  

Invasive Species Control
In recent years, invasive, exotic plants have become a serious threat to national wildlife refuges throughout the United States. Each year, three million acres of land are lost to exotic, invasive plants, and billions of dollars are spent battling their infestation. Chinese tallow tree, water hyacinth, and alligator weed are species from another area – often from another continent – that have been introduced here locally. They reproduce rapidly, have few predators, and have low food value for wildlife. Like a green virus, these species have infested many impoundments on the refuge and are a constant problem for refuge managers.

Prescribed Fire
Fire has shaped the local landscape for eons. Because of South Carolina Coast’s long history of lightning and man-made fires, natural systems are adapted to fire and depend on frequent fire to remain healthy. Prescribed burning plays a natural role in local ecosystems and is a vital tool for managing public lands. The extraordinarily high plant species diversity of the coastal ecosystems is maintained by fire, which reduces competition from woody plants and recycles nutrients. One of the greatest benefits of prescribed fire is that it reduces “fuels” – the underbrush, branches, pine needles, leaves, and dead plant debris that have built up on the forest floor over time. If fuels are not reduced every few years, wildfires can become intense, hot, and destructive.

Our Services

Special Use Permits
Some commercial, recreational and research activities are allowed on national wildlife refuges only with a special use permit issued by the local office and are subject to specific conditions and fees. This permit requirement is meant to ensure that all activities at the federal site are compatible with the refuge’s Congressionally mandated wildlife conservation goals. Permits enable the public and scientific communities to engage in legitimate wildlife-related activities that would be otherwise prohibited by law. Service permit programs ensure that such activities are carried out in a manner that safeguards wildlife.

The Service has developed three different Special Use Permit (SUP) forms which may enable the public to engage in activities considered either commercial, research, or other general uses.  To apply for a Special Use Permit, download the appropriate application form below and email the completed form to savannahcoastal@fws.gov for consideration.

Commercial Activities Special Use Permit Application (FWS Form 3-1383-C) for:

  • Commercial activities such as guiding hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, or other outdoor users
  • Commercial filming (audio, video, and photographic products of a monetary value)
  • Agriculture (haying, grazing, crop planting, logging, beekeeping, and other agricultural products)

Download Commercial Special Use Application

Research and Monitoring Special Use Permit Application (FWS Form 3-1383-R) for:

  • Research and monitoring activities by students, universities, or other non-FWS organizations

Download Research and Monitoring Special Use Application


  • Woodcutting
  • Special events
  • Other (any activity not mentioned above and not usually available to the general public)

Download General Activities Special Use Application