What We Do

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a series of lands and waters owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the refuge system. It drives everything we do from the purpose a refuge is established, to the recreational activities offered there, to the resource management tools we use. Selecting the right tools helps us ensure the survival of local plants and animals and helps fulfill the purpose of the refuge. 

Since its establishment in 1973, management efforts have been devoted to restoring and maintaining natural ecological processes at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. 

Management and Conservation

Refuges use a wide range of land management tools based on the best science available. Some refuges use prescribed fires to mimic natural fires that would have cleared old vegetation from the land helping native plants regenerate and local wildlife to thrive. Other refuges contain Wilderness areas where land is largely managed passively. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. 

Water for Wildlife 

Several wells were drilled and drinkers installed to provide water for the cattle. When the refuge was established in 1973, cattle were removed and some of the wells were kept and maintained for the benefit of wildlife. The refuge is currently researching the importance of these water sources to wildlife.  

Trail cameras were set up at 24 drinkers in spring 2009 to record what species utilize them. These cameras are activated by motion detectors and capture color images during the daylight and black and white images at night using infrared flash. Volunteers check the drinkers and collect the photos from the cameras once a month. The collected photos are sorted by species, location and date. The data can then be analyzed and compared over time.  

In 2010, ten additional cameras were installed at natural springs and seeps throughout the refuge in order to compare wildlife use of all water sources. Currently, volunteers and staff have sorted close to two million photos!  Results have already helped the refuge determine the occupancy of species at the various locations on the refuge, track daily activity patterns of species, and assess the health of wildlife visiting the drinkers.  

Along with all the useful data, having these cameras set up has produced some great and interesting photos of wildlife. Some of the best photos of pronghorn, mule deer, elk, golden eagles, great horned owls, red-tailed-hawks, badgers, coyotes, gray foxes, bobcats, black bears, and javelina are currently on display in the visitor center. 

Wetland Management 

The refuge manages two wetland areas, totaling 120 acres; Unit A was established in 1998 and Unit B in 2005. These units were left unattended for years and became overgrown with saltcedar, an invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

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. It took a lot of time, effort and funding to create these units. Refuge staff partnered and worked with Ducks Unlimited, Intermountain West Joint Venture, Socorro Soil and Water Conservation District, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to remove saltcedar, build water control structures, and contour and shape the units. As the units have recently been established, there are future projects planned to continue to restore this important wetland ecosystem. The refuge is able to flood these wetland units for wintering waterfowl from October to February. Wetlands Units have undergone habitat enhancements and we invite everyone to visit our wetlands and experience the success of our wetland management. 

Rio Grande Riparian Corridor 

The Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus; SWWIFL) is a state and federally-listed endangered subspecies of the willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii; WIFL). It is an insectivorous, neotropical migrant that nests in dense riverside vegetation in the Southwestern United States. Studies indicate that SWWIFL populations have declined across their range. The primary causes of declining populations are likely habitat loss or modification. 

The refuge has identified areas that could become suitable habitat for the flycatcher and is currently working to restore this habitat. Refuge staff are currently removing invasive species and planting native willow and cottonwood. Flycatchers also seem to favor nesting near open water, so the refuge is in the planning stages of creating additional ponds near native willow stands. 

Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs 

Partnering with the University of New Mexico (UNM), Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and Prairie Dog Pals; Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge staff and volunteers have reintroduced about 600 Gunnison's prairie dogs each year since 2010. 

The Gunnison’s prairie dog is a keystone grassland species that historically inhabited this area and re-establishing a colony on the refuge is another step towards restoring the natural biological diversity of refuge grasslands. Gunnison’s prairie dogs have declined by more than 90% across their range due to habitat loss, extermination attempts, and disease. This species has been linked to grassland ecosystem health and their colonies provide numerous benefits to other wildlife, such as providing food and shelter to other wildlife; and fertilizing and aerating soil, which increases plant protein content and digestibility for other grazing animals. Studies show that wildlife, such as pronghorn, prefer to graze in and around prairie dog colonies. 

Prairie dogs come to the refuge from multiple locations. The refuge works with Prairie Dog Pals, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect prairie dogs and their environment, to obtain prairie dogs from the Albuquerque area. The refuge has also partnered with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to remove prairie dogs from their land and relocate them on the refuge where there will not be conflict with any landowners. 

Refuge staff, volunteers, and partners will continue to reintroduce prairie dogs on the refuge until, through intensive monitoring, it is determined that the population is stable and healthy. Stay tuned for an update on the success of the project! 

Invasive Species Monitoring and Management 

Invasive plant monitoring and early detection 

The most effective way to reduce the amount of invasive plants is to monitor and detect species before they become an infestation. Refuge staff uses GPS and GIS units to map and record invasive plants. Once the species are identified and mapped, the refuge works to remove them before they spread further. Invasive species found on the refuge include saltcedar, phragmites, bull thistle, tree of heaven, Siberian elm, and Russian olive.  


Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), an exotic plant introduced for erosion control, has invaded riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

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areas of the refuge displacing the native vegetation and the wildlife that depend on native habitat. Saltcedar is capable of disrupting the structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

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and stability of native plant communities because it is a fire-adapted species, outcompetes and replaces native plant species, has long tap roots that can reach deep water tables, monopolizes limited sources of water and interferes with natural aquatic systems. Although saltcedar provides some shelter, the foliage and flowers of saltcedar provide little food value for native wildlife species that depend on nutrient-rich native plant resources. 

Currently, saltcedar is being cleared and these areas are being planted with cottonwood, coyote willow and black willow. The refuge places high priority on planting native species in areas where invasive species dominated, as restoration is the ultimate goal in preserving the refuge’s natural ecosystems. 

Prescribed Fire 

Though smoke from burns is visible from surrounding communities, fire management staff at Sevilleta monitor weather and fuel conditions to ensure that burns achieve the best results with minimum smoke impact on local residents. Combined with mechanical brush reduction, burning benefits the area by opening habitat lost to invasive vegetation and removing potentially hazardous wildfire fuels. The refuge management plans include continuing prescribed burns on established fire units on a rotational basis while adding additional areas that will benefit from fire introduction. 

Law Enforcement

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers have a wide variety of duties and responsibilities. Officers help visitors understand and obey wildlife protection laws. They work closely with state and local government offices to enforce federal, state and refuge hunting regulations that protect migratory birds and other game species from illegal take and preserve legitimate hunting opportunities. 

Laws and Regulations

Please keep our rules in mind as you enjoy Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.